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Know Before You Sign: Your Arbitration Agreement May Keep Your New Jersey Harassment Case from Making it to a Jury

One of the recurring challenges that many people in the workplace face these days is the employer’s requirement that they sign documents waiving certain rights in exchange for employment or continued employment. These agreements can include provisions like clauses that mandate arbitration of all work-related disputes between employer and employee. That can possibly mean that, even if you have very strong proof of illegal harassment or discrimination, you may be blocked from getting that case in front of a jury. As is true of any legal document, especially those that involve forfeiting rights, know before you sign and consult a knowledgeable New Jersey harassment lawyer about the impact those documents could have on you.

One worker whose signature did hurt her harassment case was Kuashema, a salesperson for a furniture store in Hudson County. According to the saleswoman, hers was a hostile work environment. She alleged in a lawsuit that she was subjected to music that used the N-word along with various misogynistic slurs. She also asserted that the N-word and a certain anti-gay slur were frequently used at her work. According to Kuashema, she complained about the work environment conditions, but, not only did the hostile work environment conditions continue, but also the employer fired her in retaliation for making a complaint.

The saleswoman was not able to go forward to trial in her lawsuit, however. Her inability to do so was not a result of any factual weakness in her case. Kuashema’s case was thrown out because, while she still worked for the furniture company, she signed something the employer called the “Associate’s Agreement & Consent.” This document included within it a provision that said that employees agreed to resolve all employment disputes by utilizing the Employee Arbitration Program. In other words, the agreement had a mandatory arbitration clause in it, and Kuashema was, as a result, locked into arbitrating instead of litigating her claim.

The saleswoman tried to argue that the arbitration requirement was not enforceable, but that effort did not succeed. She argued that she signed the agreement under duress and without a full understanding of its provisions. She contended that she feared that, if she did not sign, she’d lose her job. The problem with that argument was that this fear could not amount to illegal duress. New Jersey law allows employers to condition employment or continued employment on an employee’s signing an arbitration agreement, so what the furniture store did was within the law.

Kuashema also argued that the agreement was incomprehensible. This also didn’t work because the law says that, if you sign something and there is no evidence of fraud or duress, you are presumed to understand what you’re signing. Additionally, the furniture store arbitration clause was not unclear; it plainly stated that both sides agreed to give up their rights to litigate and instead arbitrate all employment disputes.

Any time you agree to sign away certain legal rights, there are potential consequences. Depending on the facts of your situation, signing may still make sense…or it may not. The key is to be armed with knowledge before you sign. Whether you are facing the possibility of signing such an agreement or are seeking to have an arbitration clause invalidated, talk to the experienced New Jersey race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates about your situation. Our team has spent many years fighting to protect the rights of workers in New Jersey. 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:

Contract’s Arbitration Provision Doesn’t Stop New Jersey Dancer from Pursuing Her Minimum Wage Lawsuit, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, Oct. 16, 2017

Third Circuit Allows Employees to Go Forward with Age Discrimination Lawsuit Despite Employer’s Arbitration Policy, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, Sept. 19, 2017

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