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Arbitration Agreements, Ambiguity and Your New Jersey Discrimination or Harassment Case

You might think that a lawsuit related to the trade-in of a used car would have nothing to do with New Jersey discrimination law, but one recent case of that type offers some potentially useful information. There may be many different tools in the tool belt of a litigation attorney, and not all of them may come directly from court opinions in discrimination cases. The key is finding an experienced New Jersey discrimination attorney who knows how to use all of those legal tools for maximum effect for you.

The plaintiff in the vehicle case was a man who had traded in his used vehicle and leased a new one. As part of the transaction, a $75 fee was added that allegedly was never disclosed. This led the man to sue for numerous consumer protection violations. The defendant in that case asked the court to compel arbitration. As part of the pile of paperwork that the consumer had signed during the trade-in process, he had executed an arbitration agreement. The consumer contended that the arbitration agreement was invalid.

The Appellate Division court sided with the consumer. The court explained that any arbitration agreement, like any contract, must be made up of terms that are clear and unambiguous. If an arbitration agreement contains ambiguity or is vague, then that may allow the party seeking to avoid arbitration to do so.

The arbitration agreement in this consumer’s case suffered from several problems. One of the big ones was that the document did not contain any wording that said that the consumer “could not pursue his statutory rights in court.” The agreement lacked a “clear and unambiguous statement informing the reader that arbitration is the exclusive remedy.”

That language is very important. That’s because “an average member of the public may not know — without some explanatory comment — that arbitration is a substitute for the right to have one’s claim adjudicated in a court of law,” according to the court. Without the necessary clarifying language, the agreement wasn’t enforceable.

So, what does that mean for you in your discrimination or harassment case? Even though this consumer’s case was “unpublished,” which meant that it isn’t binding precedent on other New Jersey courts, it still demonstrates an Appellate Division court’s willingness to look very closely at arbitration agreements and to issue rulings in favor of the less financially sophisticated and powerful party if the document is not completely clear and devoid of ambiguities.

That’s something you, as an employee seeking damages in court for employment discrimination, may be able to use. Just as the consumer in this vehicle transaction was the “average member of the public” in his case, so too might an employee be similarly positioned in her discrimination action. An employee’s argument seeking to invalidate an arbitration agreement in an employment case may have the opportunity to be successful as the court may be willing to inspect the agreement very closely for possible ambiguities or vagueness, and invalidate it on that basis.

The knowledgeable and hardworking New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to give you the advice, counsel and advocacy you need for your discrimination or harassment case. Contact us to find out more about your options. Reach us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how we can help you.

More blog posts:

How the Omission of Essential Terms Allowed a New Jersey Employer to Escape Arbitration and Pursue Her Age Discrimination Case in Court, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, Oct. 26, 2018

What You Need to Avoid Arbitrating Your New Jersey Discrimination or Harassment Case, Even if You Signed an Arbitration Agreement with Your Employer, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, Oct. 19, 2018

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