Articles Posted in Forced Arbitration

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

Arbitration agreements between employees and employers often strongly favor the employer’s interests at the employee’s expense. As a result, an unsuccessful opposition to a motion to compel arbitration can be disastrous to a plaintiff’s case. Although a commercial case, the Tenth Circuit’s recent decision in Ragab v. Howard is relevant for plaintiffs and may help defeat a motion to compel arbitration.

In Ragab, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the District Court of Colorado’s denial of Ultegra Financial, its CEO Muhammad Howard, and Clive Funding, Inc.’s motion to compel arbitration.  There were six agreements between plaintiff Sami Ragab and defendants Ultegra and Clive Funding relevant to Ragab’s claims. The agreements contained clear but conflicting arbitration provisions, including conflicts regarding the essential terms of any arbitration, like which rules would govern and how the parties would select the arbitrator. The Circuit Court found that these conflicts between essential terms demonstrated that the parties did not have a meeting of the minds and, therefore, there was no actual agreement to arbitrate.

On May 5, 2014, the New York State Assembly passed legislation forbidding the State from contracting with any business that requires employees to arbitrate claims arising from violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Should this bill win the support of the State Senate and be signed into law by Governor Cuomo, New York State would be taking a step in the right direction, towards fair employment conditions for workers and away from forced arbitration.

Forced employment arbitration clauses require American employees to sign away their fundamental right to a trial by jury; countless workers do so without even knowing what rights they are giving away. Many employers require employees to sign overarching employee handbooks, and within that handbook is a short clause stating that the employee has agreed to arbitrate any legal issues that may arise out of the course of his or her employment. Consequentially, when an employee is discriminated against, wrongfully terminated, or otherwise injured by their employer, the employee has lost the ability to take the employer to court, and instead must submit to arbitration.

The federal government began favoring arbitration in 1925, with the passage of the Federal Arbitration Act. At that time, arbitration was typically used to settle disputes between two parties of equal bargaining power. Over the last few decades, however, courts have expanded the application of the FAA to validate agreements between parties of vastly different bargaining power – such as employers and employees – entered into before any dispute exists. Typically, when faced with such an agreement, a worker has only two choices: agree to it, or find another job. Given those options, the worker really has no choice at all but to agree to sign away their rights.