A recent Missouri Supreme Court case deals yet another blow to workers’ rights, and potentially to their workers’ compensation rights, by strengthening the power of arbitration clauses in employment contracts.
Worker Signs Arbitration Clause, Gets Fired, Tries to Sue
The case is Soars v. Easter Seals Midwest. In it, the employer hired the worker as an at-will employee. In order to be hired, though, the worker had to sign an arbitration agreement that forced him to take all of his claims through arbitration, first, rather than to court. The arbitration agreement also contained what is known as a delegation clause, which gives the arbitrator exclusive authority to determine what the arbitration agreement means and whether it is enforceable.
In order to get the job, the worker signed the agreement. Three months later, he was fired. He claimed that the firing was retaliatory for his decision to report other employees for smoking marijuana on the job. The employer claimed that he was fired for not participating in an internal investigation into whether he had neglected the employer’s clients.
The worker filed a wrongful discharge lawsuit in district court, claiming that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable. The district court agreed, and the employer appealed.
Supreme Court Upholds Another Arbitration Agreement
On appeal, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the arbitration agreement and forced the worker to take his claims through arbitration, instead. The Missouri Supreme Court made a lot of the fact that the language in the delegation clause at issue was identical to one that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson.
However, the court overlooked numerous aspects that made this case different. Chief among them was the fact that the worker received nothing from giving up his right to his day in court. While the employer claimed that the job offer was what the worker received, the offer was for at-will employment, which could be taken away at any time and with no warning. Numerous earlier cases in Missouri had held this insufficient to support an enforceable contract.
Why Arbitration Agreements Matter for Workers’ Compensation
We have covered the link between arbitration agreements and workers’ compensation rights, before. That post, though, dealt with the issue of forced and individual arbitration, which compelled workers to go through the arbitration process alone, rather than in groups.
Here, the problem comes from allowing arbitrators to decide whether they have the power to decide anything. Of course arbitrators are going to rubber stamp delegation clauses and conclude that arbitration agreements are enforceable – doing otherwise can hurt their own business as arbitrators. This impacts workers who are entitled to workers’ compensation after being hurt on the job because any disputes they have will be shuffled into arbitration, where they face an uphill struggle to get what they deserve.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
The workers’ compensation and personal injury attorneys at the Smith Law Office represent injured workers both in court and in arbitration. Contact us online or call our St. Joseph law office at (816) 875-9373.