Arbitration and Mediation

One of the prime reasons many companies require employees to arbitrate disputes is to ensure confidentiality. Indeed, absent an arbitration provision, an employee can file publicly available papers containing unfounded and scurrilous allegations that leave the employer with no recourse but to litigate or settle. Moreover, even if the employer eventually prevails, severe damage may be done by having its name dragged through the mud due to the publicity associated with the claims.

As the recent decision in Boursiquot v. United Healthcare Services of Delaware confirms, however, merely having a clause mandating that disputes be arbitrated is not be enough to ensure confidentiality. And there is no reason to leave this to chance.

In the Spring of 2016, Yvlande Boursiquot was a student beginning an unpaid internship with United Healthcare. As part of her onboarding with the company, Ms. Boursiquot was asked to sign an agreement entitled “Alternative Resolution for Conflicts Agreement,” and that Agreement included the following language:

Except as it otherwise provides, this Agreement is intended to apply to the resolution of disputes that otherwise would be resolved in a court of law or before a forum other than arbitration. This Agreement requires all such disputes to

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While being a defendant in a lawsuit is no fun, being a defendant in a class action lawsuit is especially painful. If you are in-house counsel in a service business, you may be particularly vulnerable to such actions and, no doubt, want to do whatever you can to avoid them. One strategy that has been employed over the years to thwart class actions is to include an arbitration clause in service agreements. Sometimes, however, companies also want to reserve the right to unilaterally modify the terms of their agreements – and doing so can invalidate an arbitration clause. Nevertheless, a recent decision from the Federal District Court of Massachusetts in Wainblat v. Comcast shows how one company was able to thread this needle and achieve both objectives.

Robert Wainblat was a Comcast customer, and in 2017 he agreed to a Subscriber Agreement that required arbitration for:

[A]ny claim or controversy related to [Comcast] or our relationship, including but not limited to any and all: (1) claims for relief and theories of liability, whether based in contract, tort, fraud, negligence, statute, regulation, ordinance, or otherwise; (2) claims that arose before this or any prior Agreement; (3) claims that arise after

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Who wouldn’t want to be able to dictate the terms of a contract rather than having to negotiate them with someone whose interests are not completely aligned with your own? If you ever find yourself in such a position, however, keep in mind that if a contract is too one-sided, it can be ruled illusory and unenforceable. Indeed, that is exactly what happened to the defendant in McNamara v. S.I. Logistics, Inc. when it tried to enforce its contractual right to arbitration.

Green Smoke, Inc. (which later changed its name to S.I. Logistics) was in the business of selling e-cigarettes, and it used third-party “Affiliates” to market its products. Tim McNamara became a Green Smoke Affiliate in late 2009 or early 2010, and the following year the company implemented a new (and mandatory) Affiliate Agreement. Any Affiliate who refused to sign on to the 2011 Agreement became ineligible to receive Green Smoke commissions going forward.

In 2014, McNamara was terminated from Green Smoke’s Affiliate program, and he subsequently sued Green Smoke for breach of contract and a variety of other claims. Green Smoke responded by moving to dismiss the complaint and compel arbitration. In support of its position, Green … Keep reading

In some transactions, such as those involving the acquisition of a business, the deal may be documented through a primary contract and subsidiary agreements that are referenced in, or even attached as Exhibits to, the primary. While there is nothing inherently good or bad about papering a transaction this way, it is important to keep in mind that doing so may mean that the dispute resolution provisions of the primary contract do not apply if litigation arises and only involves a claimed breach of a subsidiary contract. Indeed, that is the hard lesson that was learned by the defendant in National Dentix, LLC v. Gold.

In 2000, National Dentix acquired Phillip Gold’s business, and the transaction was documented with three agreements: a Stock Purchase Agreement (“SPA”), an Employment Agreement (“EA”) and a Non-Compete Agreement (“NCA”). While executing the EA and NCA were conditions precedent to – and even were attached to – the SPA, the EA and NCA contained standard integration clauses, which essentially said that each contract set forth the entire understanding between the parties with respect to the subject matter thereof. Further, while the SPA contained an arbitration clause, and the EA and NCA did not, … Keep reading

Electronic agreements have become a staple of today’s e-commerce world, and such agreements generally are as enforceable as those written on parchment and signed with a quill pen. One notable exception, however, is where the proponent of such an agreement seeks to enforce an arbitration provision. In that case, more may be required than simply having a clause stating that all disputes must be resolved through arbitration at the AAA, JAMS, or some other organization. Indeed, that is the hard lesson the defendants in Cruz v. Jump City Everett LLC (34 Mass.L.Rep. 586) learned earlier this year.

In 2015, after visiting the defendants’ recreational trampoline facility with his two minor children, Elmer Cruz filed suit in Suffolk Superior Court, claiming that he suffered an injury at the establishment. The defendants moved to dismiss that claim, contending that Mr. Cruz had affixed his electronic signature to a “Participant Agreement” that included a clause requiring all disputes to be resolved via arbitration. Mr. Cruz countered by submitting an affidavit in which he asserted that (i) he does not speak English; (ii) his son, who does speak English, led Mr. Cruz to a computer screen, where the son entered various information and … Keep reading

As I noted in a prior post, the differences between arbitration and litigation go well beyond the fact that arbitration generally is a quicker and less expensive process. As such, there are a host of reasons why a company may want certain disputes – including, but not limited to, those brought by its own employees – resolved through arbitration. Similarly, companies almost always want to avoid the risk of being sued in a class action. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its consolidated decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis; Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris; and NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., ruled that class action waivers are enforceable.

As Justice Gorsuch noted at the outset, while the three consolidated cases had different facts, they each essentially revolved around the same related questions:

Should employees and employers be allowed to agree that any disputes between them will be resolved through one-on-one arbitration? Or should employees always be permitted to bring their claims in class or collective ac­tions, no matter what they agreed with their employers?

In the Ernst & Young case, Stephen Morris entered into an employment agreement with E&Y, stating that (i) all … Keep reading

It’s human nature to engage in an emotional exhale after reaching an agreement in principle to settle a long-standing or hard-fought dispute. While doing so is all well and good, it is critical that you don’t let that deter you from exercising extreme focus on documenting that settlement in a carefully crafted agreement. Indeed, as the plaintiff in Zvi Construction v. Levy found out a few weeks ago, failing to do so can leave your client in a position where it is unable to obtain the fruits that it rightfully deserves.… Keep reading

In 2014, I posted Carefully Craft Your Arbitration Clause if You Want Some, But not All, Disputes Arbitrated.  A decision a few months ago, Trustivo, LLC v. Anthem, Inc. is a reminder that if a contract has a broad arbitration provision, a party may have little chance of getting court intervention – even in situations  where the general validity of the contract is challenged – unless an appropriate carve-out is inserted.… Keep reading

As I discussed in Is Arbitration Quicker, Cheaper and Better for You?, sometimes it is in a party’s interest to have a dispute resolution mechanism that is long, onerous and expensive.  Further, as the recent case Grand Wireless v. Verizon Wireless confirms, if you want some disputes resolved by arbitration and others resolved by a court, it is critical that your arbitration clause spell this out in detail.… Keep reading

Porreca v. The Rose Group was a class action lawsuit brought by Carly Porreca and Charles Walton, alleging that their employer, Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar, had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. After Porreca was dismissed from the lawsuit, the restaurant management company that owned and operated the Applebee’s at which Porreca and Walton worked, the Rose Group, sought a stay of the litigation as well as an order (i) compelling Walton to arbitrate his claim individually, and (ii) barring him from pursuing a class action in that arbitration.  In support of this request, the Rose Group relied on the fact that Walton had signed an agreement binding him to the company’s Dispute Resolution Program, which specifically stated the following:

The Company and I agree that all legal claims or disputes covered by the Agreement must be submitted to binding arbitration …. We also agree that any arbitration between the Company and me is of an individual claim and that any claim subject to arbitration will not be arbitrated on a collective or a classwide basis …. 

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