Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Pfizer’s Human Resources Department sent an e-mail to Pfizer employees at their corporate e-mail addresses announcing Pfizer’s five-page Mutual Arbitration and Class Waiver Agreement (Agreement) and included a link to that document. The e-mail also included a included a link to a document that listed “Frequently Asked Questions,” including “Do I have to agree to this?” to which the response indicated, “The Arbitration Agreement is a condition of continued employment with the Company. If you begin or continue working for the Company sixty (60) days after receipt of this Agreement, it will be a contractual agreement that binds both you and the Company.” The “FAQs” document also encouraged any employee who had “legal questions” about the Agreement “to speak to [his or her] own attorney.” Pfize terminated Amy Skuse's employment in August 2017, and Skuse filed a complaint alleging that Pfizer and the individual defendants violated the Law Against Discrimination by terminating her employment because of her religious objection to being vaccinated for yellow fever. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration. Skuse opposed the motion, contending that she was not bound by Pfizer’s Agreement, arguing that she was asked only to acknowledge the Agreement, not to assent to it, and that she never agreed to arbitrate her claims. The trial court dismissed Skuse’s complaint and directed her to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the Agreement. The Appellate Division reversed, identifying three aspects of Pfizer’s communications to Skuse as grounds for its decision: Pfizer’s use of e-mails to disseminate the Agreement to employees already inundated with e-mails; its use of a “training module” or a training “activity” to explain the Agreement; and its instruction that Skuse click her computer screen to “acknowledge” her obligation to assent to the Agreement in the event that she remained employed for sixty days, not to “agree” to the Agreement. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding the Agreement was valid and binding, and held the trial court was correct in enforcing it. View "Skuse v. Pfizer, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of current and former retail sales employees of Sterling Jewelers, filed suit alleging that they were paid less than their male counterparts, on account of their gender, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act. After an arbitrator certified a class of Sterling Jewelers employees that included employees who did not affirmatively opt in to the arbitration proceeding, the district court held that the arbitrator exceeded her authority in purporting to bind those absent class members to class arbitration.The Second Circuit reversed, holding that the arbitrator was within her authority in purporting to bind the absent class members to class proceedings because, by signing the operative arbitration agreement, the absent class members, no less than the parties, bargained for the arbitrator's construction of their agreement with respect to class arbitrability. The court remanded to the district court to consider, in the first instance, the issue of whether the arbitrator exceeded her authority in certifying an opt-out class. View "Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the order of the district court finding that an arbitration agreement between the parties in this case was enforceable, granting AT&T Mobility Puerto Rico, Inc.’s (AT&T) motion to compel arbitration and dismissing Nereida Rivera-Colon’s (Rivera) suit, holding that Rivera manifested her intent to accept the agreement to arbitrate legal grievances as per Puerto Rico law.Rivera filed suit against AT&T, her former employer, alleging age discrimination and wrongful termination. AT&T entered a special appearance and moved to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration. In response, Rivera argued that there was no valid arbitration agreement. The district court held that the arbitration agreement was enforceable and granted the motion to compel arbitration. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that, under Puerto Rico law, Rivera was bound by the arbitration agreement because she failed to opt out of the agreement. View "Rivera-Colon v. AT&T Mobility Puerto Rico, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case alleging several violations of federal and state discrimination laws the First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court denying Defendant’s motion to stay the proceedings in district court and compel arbitration, holding that the contract to arbitration in between the parties was unenforceable.Plaintiffs - several individuals and the National Federation of the Blind - filed a complaint alleging that Defendant - the Container Store, Inc. - failed to utilize tactile keypads on its point-of-sale devices in its stores that could independently be used by customers who are blind in violation of federal and state discrimination laws. Defendant moved to compel arbitration, citing an arbitration provision in the terms and conditions of a loyalty program of which the individual plaintiffs were members. The district court denied the motion. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) based upon the lack of evidence that the in-store plaintiffs had any knowledge that arbitration terms applied to their enrollment in the loyalty program, Defendant failed to establish that an agreement to arbitrate was consummated between it and three of the four individual plaintiffs; and (2) the district court did not err in finding that the loyalty program agreement was illusory and therefore void. View "National Federation of the Blind v. Container Store, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this appeal by the Rhode Island Troopers Association from a judgment granting declaratory and equitable relief in favor of the State, the Supreme Court affirmed the first six declarations and vacated the remaining two declarations in the superior court’s judgment.Here, the superior court (1) declared that the Governmental Tort Liability Act, R.I. Gen. Laws chapter 31 of title 9, vests the Attorney General with the nondelegable, nontransferable legal duty to determine whether the State should provide a defense and indemnification in a civil action brought against a state employee; and (2) permanently enjoined arbitration of issues related to the Attorney General’s decision to decline to provide a defense and indemnification for a state trooper in a federal civil rights action brought against him in his individual capacity. The Supreme Court held (1) the trial court properly enjoined the arbitration proceedings because the issues raised were not arbitrable within the collective bargaining process; (2) the superior court properly declared that the Attorney General possesses the nondelegable, nontransferable, sole legal duty to determine whether a state employee was acting within the scope of employment and is therefore entitled to a defense and indemnification; and (3) the remaining two declarations were superfluous to the issues in this case. View "State v. Rhode Island Troopers Ass’n" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order compelling arbitration of putative class action claims against AT&T by customers who alleged that AT&T falsely advertised their mobile service plans as "unlimited" when in fact it intentionally slowed data at certain usage levels. The panel held that there was no state action in this case, rejecting plaintiffs' claim that there was state action whenever a party asserts a direct constitutional challenge to a permissive law under Denver Area Educational Telecommunications Consortium, Inc. v. FCC, 518 U.S. 727 (1996). The panel held that Denver Area did not broadly rule that the government was the relevant state actor whenever there was a direct constitutional challenge to a "permissive" statute, and did not support finding state action here. The panel also held that the Federal Arbitration Act merely gives AT&T the private choice to arbitrate, and did not encourage arbitration such that AT&T's conduct was attributable to the state. View "Roberts v. AT&T Mobility, LLC" on Justia Law

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Genovese v. Gallo Wine Merchants, Inc., 628 A.2d 946 (Conn. 1993), which held that, under Con. Gen. Stat. 31-51bb, a factual determination made in a final and binding arbitration conducted pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement does not have a preclusive effect in a subsequent action claiming a constitutional or statutory violation, is still good law.Plaintiff brought the present action alleging that her termination was in retaliation for bringing a previous action against Defendant alleging sex discrimination and for engaging in protected speech. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff’s claims were barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel because the factual underpinnings of the claims had been decided against her by the board of mediation in arbitration proceedings. The trial court denied the motion, citing Genovese. Defendant appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, thus declining Defendant’s invitation to overrule Genovese. View "Spiotti v. Wolcott" on Justia Law

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Dayton Public Schools notified Cox of its intent to terminate her employment for allegedly striking a student. An arbitration award, finding just cause for her termination, was handed down on December 10, 2013. The arbitrator e-mailed the decision to the School District attorneys on December 10, but Cox was not included as a recipient of the e-mail. On December 18, 2013, the Board of Education passed a formal resolution adopting the arbitrator’s decision and directed that Cox be served with the order by certified mail. On March 10, 2014, Cox moved to vacate, modify, or correct the arbitration award. The School District argued that notice of a petition seeking the vacation or modification of an arbitration award pursuant to R.C. Chapter 2711 must be received by the adverse party or its attorney within the statutory three-month period contained in R.C. 2711.13. The trial court dismissed. The Court of Appeals reversed; the Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed. The three-month period for service of Cox’s motion began on December 11, 2013. On the same numerical day three months later, Cox sent notice of her motion by certified mail. Service was complete at the time of mailing and was timely. View "Cox v. Dayton Pub. Schs. Bd. of Educ." on Justia Law

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Each of these three consolidated cases originated with the filing of an action in the circuit court asserting claims against nursing home facilities for personal injuries suffered by a nursing home resident, violations of Ky. Rev. Stat. 216.510 et seq., and for wrongful death of the resident. At the time of each resident’s admission to the nursing home, the resident’s attorney-in-fact executed a written document providing that disputes arising out of the relationship between the resident and the nursing home would be submitted to arbitration. When each case was commenced, the defendant nursing home moved the circuit court to compel the parties to submit the claims to a formal arbitration proceeding. The circuit court denied the motion in each case, concluding that the respective power-of-attorney instruments did not authorize the resident’s attorney-in-fact to waive the resident’s right to access to the courts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) without a clear and convincing manifestation of the principal’s intention to do so, delegation to an agent of the authority to waive a trial by jury is not authorized, and the principal’s assent to the waiver is not validly obtained; and (2) the arbitration agreements in these cases were never validly formed. View "Extendicare Homes, Inc. v. Whisman" on Justia Law

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Appellant was associated with Appellee, Raymond James Financial Services, as a securities broker. After Appellee decided to terminate Appellant’s contract, Appellant brought an arbitration proceeding before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, alleging that he had been fired because of his sexual orientation and his status as a recovering alcoholic, in violation of Vermont law. After granting the parties’ request that Florida law be applied to the proceedings, an arbitration panel awarded Appellant $600,000 in back pay on his claim of discrimination based on disability. The district court vacated the award, concluding that the arbitrators lacked authority to grant the remedy because Appellant brought no claims under Florida law. The First Circuit reversed, holding that although the arbitration decision may have been incorrect as a matter of law, the arbitrators’ decision to impose liability on Appellee under Florida law did not willfully flout the governing law or otherwise exceed the bounds of the arbitrators’ authority to resolve the parties’ dispute. Remanded for entry of an order confirming the arbitration award. View "Raymond James Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Fenyk" on Justia Law