POLICY IN NEW JERSEY LAW AGAINST DISCRIMINATION MATTER
By Frank A. Custode, Esq.
In the recent decision of Skuse v. Pfizer, Inc., et al., (Docket No. A-3027-17T4, January 16, 2019), the Appellate Division invalidated an arbitration provision it described as “an inadequate way for an employer to go about extracting its employees’ agreement to submit to binding arbitration for future claims and thereby waive their right to sue an employer and seek a jury trial.”
The employer, Pfizer, Inc., emailed the arbitration policy to its workforce in what was termed a “training module.” The training module described the mandatory arbitration policy on a series of slides and asked the employees to “acknowledge” the policy by clicking an electronic button. The training module further stated that, if the employee did not click the acknowledgment and continued to work for Pfizer for at least sixty days, the employee would be “deemed” to be bound by the arbitration policy. The training module did not request that employees provide signatures conveying they agreed to the terms of the policy. Nor did the module request that the employees memorialize that they expressly agreed to the terms of policy.
In November 2017, Amy Skuse filed a lawsuit against Pfizer as well as several other individual defendants alleging violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination based on religious discrimination and failure to provide reasonable accommodations for her religious beliefs. Thereafter, the defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit and compel arbitration. The trial court granted defendants’ motion to compel. However, the Appellate Division reversed and invalidated the arbitration provision.
In so doing, the Appellate Division found that the company’s procedure of distributing its “training module” arbitration policy fell short of the requirements set forth in Leodori v. CIGNA Corp., 175 N.J. 293 (2003) (holding that an employee’s valid waiver of statutory rights results “only from an explicit, affirmative agreement that unmistakably reflects the employee’s assent”) as well as the requirements set forth in Atalese v. U.S. Legal Services, Group, L.P., 219 N.J. 430 (2014) (holding that an arbitration agreement “must be clear and unambiguous” that the individual “is choosing to arbitrate disputes rather than have them resolved in a court of law”).
This is another significant victory for employees in the State of New Jersey because it further erodes an employer’s use of arbitration provisions in matters alleging violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Indeed, this opinion gives employees further ammunition to challenge arbitration provisions in employment law matters and pursue their legal remedies in court.