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Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Answer: Can my employer enforce an arbitration clause against me to stop me from suing for race discrimination? Can I sue for wrongful termination in court if there is an arbitration clause in the employee handbook? Do I have to go to arbitration against my employer if I didn’t know what I was signing?

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Most people have probably heard of arbitration agreements, or at least seen the word arbitration, buried within the terms and conditions every time you upgrade computer software. We’re all guilty of scrolling through the terms and blindly clicking “accept” without thinking twice about the implications of our action. But if you’re reading this employment law attorneys blog, chances are that you may be in the unfortunate place of being subject to arbitration on a dispute you have with your employer.  While including an arbitration clause into an employment contract or employee handbook isn’t anything new, they have been appearing at an increasing rate. Our employment lawyers have discussed some issues on arbitration before (The United States Supreme Court Re-Affirms Its Preference for Arbitration In Employment Discrimination Cases; Will My Severance Agreement Stop Me From Suing For Back Pay? ), so this blog will focus more on the scope of arbitration for employees that may be looking to sue their former employers for race, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, or disability discrimination.

Arbitration is codified, or made into law, under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) in 1925. The original purpose for the U.S. Congress to pass the act was to create another way to resolve cases without bogging down the ever increasing case loads in state and federal court. While the FAA has helped to clear some cases, it has created cases focused on what can and can’t be submitted to arbitration.

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In Gudge v. 109 Restaurant Corp., the United States District Eastern District of New York, a federal court, denied the employer’s motion to compel arbitration based on its sole evidence of an agreement that was signed by the employee but lacked simple things such as the date the agreement was signed or a printed name of the employee.  The Court said that the standard for determining requires answering the following questions:

  1. Whether the parties agreed to arbitrate;
  2. The scope of the arbitration agreement
  3. If federal statutory claims are asserted, whether Congress intended those claims to be nonarbitrable; and
  4. If the court concludes that some, but not all, of the claims in the case are arbitrable, whether to stay the balance of the proceedings pending arbitration.

The Court went on to say that while the FAA created a strong preference for arbitrating claims, arbitration agreements themselves should not be any more binding than a standard contract:

“Federal policy strongly favors the enforcement of arbitration agreements.” Paramedics Electromedicina Comercial. Ltda v. GE Medical Systems Information Technologies. Inc., 369 F.3d 645, 654 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing 9 U.S.C. § 2; Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24-25, 103 S.Ct. 927, 74 L.Ed.2d 765 (1983)). Yet, arbitration is “`a matter of consent, not coercion.’“ JLM Industries, Inc., 387 F.3d at 171, (quoting Volt Info. Scis. v. Bd. of Trs. of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 479, 109 S.Ct. 1248, 103 L.Ed.2d 488 (1989)). It is a “`matter of contract,’ and therefore `a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which [it] has not agreed so to submit.’“ JLM Industries. Inc., 387 F.3d at 171 (quoting Vera v. Saks & Co., 335 F.3d 109, 116 (2d Cir. 2003) (other citations omitted)). Thus, “[w]hile the FAA expresses a strong federal policy in favor of arbitration, the purpose of Congress in enacting the FAA `was to make arbitration agreements as enforceable as other contracts, but not more so.’“ JLM Industries, Inc., 387 F.3d at 171 (quoting Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. U.S., L.L.C. v. Nackel, 346 F.3d 360, 364 (2d Cir. 2003) (other citations omitted). Thus, the court deciding a motion to compel arbitration must first determine “whether the parties agreed to arbitrate that dispute.” Louis Dreyfus Negoce S.A. v. Blystad Shipping & Trading Inc., 252 F.3d 218, 225 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 122 S.Ct. 546 (2001) (quoting Mitsubishi Motors Corp. v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouht. Inc., 473 U.S. 614, 626, 105 S.Ct. 3346, 3353, 87 L.Ed.2d 444 (1985) (internal quotations omitted)).

This could mean that the principles of contract law, including whether or not both parties to the contract agreed to enter into it, will apply to determining the scope of arbitration agreements.

As you can see, the laws governing arbitration can be very complex and seem to be a point of contention as of late. Often times it covers not only employment law, but can dip heavily into issues of contract formation, interpretation, and enforceability. That’s why you shouldn’t hesitate to call our firm if you find yourself going through arbitration with a former or current employer.

If you are searching “I need a lawyer because I have been wrongfully fired or terminated;” or “I have been discriminated against based on my …” race, national origin, gender, age, religion or disability; or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

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