Category: Alternative Dispute Resolution

New Jersey Court Invalidates Arbitration Agreement that Fails to Designate an Arbitration Forum

New Jersey Court Invalidates Arbitration Agreement that Fails to Designate an Arbitration Forum

The New Jersey courts have consistently held that the mutual assent necessary to support a binding arbitration agreement is not present where the agreement does not sufficiently put the parties on notice that, by agreeing to arbitrate, they are giving up the right to have their dispute resolved in a judicial forum and are waiving whatever rights they might have to a jury trial. In Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division has now held that the mutual assent necessary to support a binding arbitration agreement will also be found lacking when the agreement does not designate the forum in which the arbitration will take place and otherwise fails to define the arbitration process. Background The plaintiff, Marilyn Flanzman, after being terminated from her position as a weight loss counselor for the defendant, a weight loss and nutrition company, brought suit in Superior Court, Law Division under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, alleging age discrimination and harassment. The defendant moved to compel arbitration based on an arbitration agreement into which the parties had entered during the plaintiff’s employment, which, in relevant part, stated: Any and all claims or controversies arising out of or relating to [plaintiff’s]...

Federal Courts Uphold Arbitration Agreements Via Email

Federal Courts Uphold Arbitration Agreements Via Email

Recently, federal district courts in New York and New Jersey turned aside employee attacks on arbitration agreements challenged on the grounds that the employer’s communication of its arbitration policy via email was inadequate. The courts in both Lockette v. Morgan Stanley and Schmell v. Morgan Stanley held that the employees’ assertions that they never saw the email forwarding the terms of the arbitration agreement were insufficient to overcome the employer’s evidence that the email had been delivered to the employees’ email inboxes. Lockette John Lockette sued Morgan Stanley in federal court in New York after Morgan Stanley terminated his employment in 2016. Lockette alleged he had been the victim of race discrimination and retaliation in violation of federal law. The company moved to compel arbitration. Prior to 2015, the company had in place an internal dispute resolution program entitled “CARE” (Convenient Access to Resolutions for Employees) for employees registered with FINRA, who could select, but were not required to select, arbitration as a means of resolving statutory discrimination claims. In 2015, however, the company expanded the CARE program to cover all employees and to require the arbitration of employment claims, including discrimination claims, among others. Under the terms of the expanded program,...

Arbitration Clause’s Punitive Damages Waiver Held Unenforceable Under the LAD

Arbitration Clause’s Punitive Damages Waiver Held Unenforceable Under the LAD

In Roman v. Bergen Logistics, LLC, the Appellate Division recently held that a plaintiff was required to arbitrate her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation with her former employer. The court also held, however, that the arbitration agreement’s contractual provision that barred the employee’s access to punitive damages was unenforceable. Background Plaintiff Milagros Roman was hired by the defendant, Bergen Logistics, as a human resources generalist. She signed an arbitration agreement at the outset of her employment. In addition to requiring Roman to arbitrate any and all claims related to her employment, the arbitration agreement compelled her to waive any claim for punitive damages. After her termination, Roman filed a complaint in New Jersey Superior Court alleging that her former supervisor sexually harassed her, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against her in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The defendants moved to dismiss Roman’s complaint and compel her to arbitrate her claims. The Law Division found that Roman knowingly signed the arbitration agreement and that the agreement contained an unambiguous waiver of claims for punitive damages. Accordingly, that court held that Roman was required to submit her claims to arbitration and could not seek punitive...

U.S. Supreme Court Issues “Epic” Decision for Employers Upholding Arbitration Agreements and Class Action Waivers

U.S. Supreme Court Issues “Epic” Decision for Employers Upholding Arbitration Agreements and Class Action Waivers

On May 21, 2018, the United States Supreme Court resolved the split amongst several Federal Circuit Courts by finding the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) enables employers enforce class action waivers in arbitration agreements with their employees notwithstanding employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to engage in “concerted activity.” The Court’s 5-4 decision, with the majority opinion authored by Justice Gorsuch, was rendered in In Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis and companion cases Ernst & Young LLP et al. v. Stephen Morris et al. and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil, Inc. (all decided simultaneously). The Court ruled that Congress did not intend the NLRA to provide for class and collective actions, and although the NLRA provides employees the right to organize and bargain collectively, the statute does not dictate how claims must be adjudicated. Accordingly, the Court determined that the NLRA cannot be interpreted to provide employees with an implicit right to class and collective actions in contravention of the FAA, which explicitly confers upon employers and employees the ability to arbitrate and determine their chosen arbitration procedure. Instead, these laws must be interpreted consistently. The three companion cases involve employees challenging arbitration agreements containing class and...

Courts Send Signal That Care in Drafting Arbitration Provisions is Key

Courts Send Signal That Care in Drafting Arbitration Provisions is Key

Two recent decisions, one by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the other by the New Jersey Appellate Division, offer some interesting insight into the validity and viability of arbitration clauses that send employment-related disputes and claims out of the court system and into arbitration. In Moon v. Breathless, the Third Circuit Court held that an arbitration provision in an exotic dancer’s independent contractor agreement did not encompass her statutory FLSA and state wage-and-hour claims. Appellant Alissa Moon (“Moon”), a dancer at Breathless Men’s Club (“the Club”), filed a putative collective and class action against the Club in the District of New Jersey alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the New Jersey Wage Payment Law and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law. The Club moved to dismiss based upon an arbitration provision contained in the Independent Dancer Rental Agreement (the “Agreement”) that Moon signed. The Agreement also contained a provision stating Moon was an independent contractor and not an employee. The District Court denied the Club’s motion to dismiss and directed the parties to engage in limited discovery on whether Moon’s claims were subject to a valid arbitration provision. Following discovery, the District Court found that...

Ninth Circuit Holds Class Action Waivers Illegal Under the NLRA 0

Ninth Circuit Holds Class Action Waivers Illegal Under the NLRA

On August 22, 2016, in Morris v. Ernst & Young, LLP, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals joined the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in holding that class action waiver provisions in arbitration agreements governing employment disputes are illegal under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or the Act) because these waivers interfere with the right of employees to engage in concerted activity protected by Section 7 of the Act (Section 7). The holdings of these courts are in indirect conflict with an opinion of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the validity of such waivers in the face of a challenge under Section 7. Employers in jurisdictions whose courts have not yet decided this issue, and who employ such waivers in their arbitration agreements or otherwise, should be prepared for attacks on their arbitration agreements by employees seeking to bring class or collective actions or by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Arbitration Clause Held Too Vague to Cover Statutory Claims 0

Arbitration Clause Held Too Vague to Cover Statutory Claims

Employers drafting arbitration clauses for employment contracts and others drafting arbitration agreements generally need to be familiar with the line of New Jersey cases involving arbitration clauses, including the Appellate Division’s recent opinion in Anthony v. Eleison Pharmaceuticals LLC, Docket No. A-932-15T4 (App. Div. July 18, 2016), where the court held that an arbitration clause that does not include reference to a waiver of plaintiff’s statutory rights or a jury trial does not constitute a valid waiver of the right to have claims decided in a judicial forum.

Seventh Circuit Creates Circuit Split, Striking Down Agreement to Arbitrate Employment Claims on an Individual Basis 0

Seventh Circuit Creates Circuit Split, Striking Down Agreement to Arbitrate Employment Claims on an Individual Basis

On May 26, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued its decision in Lewis v. Epic Systems Corp., becoming the first federal court of appeals to decide that an agreement between an employer and an employee to arbitrate wage-and-hour claims only on an individual basis, as opposed to a class action basis, is unenforceable. The court’s opinion has created a circuit split, as the Second, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits have enforced similar agreements.

Fifth Circuit Upholds Arbitration Agreement Prohibiting Class/Collective Actions and Cautions NLRB to Reconsider Board Policy 0

Fifth Circuit Upholds Arbitration Agreement Prohibiting Class/Collective Actions and Cautions NLRB to Reconsider Board Policy

Last week, in Murphy Oil USA, Inc. v. NLRB, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld an arbitration agreement requiring employees to arbitrate claims on an individual basis, thereby reaffirming its holding in D.R. Horton, Inc. v. NLRB, despite the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) aggressive attempt to find arbitration agreements unlawful. The case is noteworthy because the court rebuffed the Board’s effort to circumvent D.R. Horton and cautioned the NLRB “to strike a more respectful balance between its views and those of circuit courts” that review them. One wonders whether the NLRB will change its current stance against arbitration agreements that prohibit class/collective actions. Regardless, the Fifth Circuit’s decision helps to settle the current state of the law at the circuit court level that arbitration agreements and class/collective action waivers are lawful under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).

Fifth Circuit Denies NLRB Petition to Rehear D.R. Horton 0

Fifth Circuit Denies NLRB Petition to Rehear D.R. Horton

On April 16, 2014, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the National Labor Relations Board’s (the “Board” or “NLRB”) petition for rehearing en banc in D.R. Horton, Inc. v. NLRB, thus upholding its December 3, 2013 decision that arbitration agreements prohibiting class or collective actions claims do not violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).