Most employers require newly hired employees to sign a number of forms at orientation. Some even require their employees to waive their right to bring a civil lawsuit in the future as a condition of employment. Employers accomplish this goal by including "arbitration agreements" among the stack of documents the new employee signs. Employees are typically so happy to have landed a job-they don't even consider what they are signing.
Arbitration agreements essentially waive an employee's right to pursue a claim in Court. Rather, any dispute with the employer (even alleging discrimination, harassment, or wrongful discharge) must be resolved through the arbitration process. This process allows the employer to have influence in selecting the decision maker and limits the employee from presenting the claim to a jury of his or her peers.
Missouri's courts had, in a number of cases, held "arbitration agreements" enforceable-even if the employee was at-will and could be fired at any time. A few weeks ago, however, the Eastern District Court of Appeals made it much more difficult for employers to enforce these agreements.
In Jimenez v. Cintas Corp, ED101015 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. January 13, 2015), a man worked as a fire service technician for Cintas. He was terminated from his employment and filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination and harassment. Cintas invoked an arbitration agreement and attempted to force Jimenez to arbitrate his claims. Jimenez argued that Cintas couldn't enforce the agreement because the company did not give him anything in exchange for the agreement. Cintas argued that Jimenez would not have received his new (at-will) job had he not signed the agreement. The court rejected Cintas' argument and held that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable as "at-will" employment could not serve as a consideration for an arbitration agreement.
In effect, Jimenez should make it easier for many Missouri employees to pursue claims before a jury (as our founders and the Constitution envisioned). To read a copy of the Jimenez decision, click here.
If you have been wronged by an employer, don't give up simply because you signed an arbitration agreement. Under Jimenez--there is a good chance it may not be enforceable. Should you have questions about a potential claim or the effect of an arbitration agreement, please feel free to call one of the attorneys at Hall Ansley.