Arbitration Agreement Upheld Despite Employee's Argument It Was Not Mutual And Adhesive

In Roman v. Superior Court, the Court of Appeals upheld an arbitration agreement where the employee challenged the agreement by arguing that the agreement was unenforceable because it only obligated the employee to arbitrate his claims. The court disagreed with plaintiff’s argument and explained that the mere inclusion of the words “I understand” or “I agree” does not destroy the mutuality of an arbitration agreement. Roman v. Superior Court, 172 Cal.App.4th 1462, 1473 (2009).

The arbitration agreement at issue in the case provided:

I hereby agree to submit to binding arbitration all disputes and claims arising out of the submission of this application. I further agree, in the event that I am hired by the company, that all disputes that cannot be resolved by informal internal resolution which might arise out of my employment with the company, whether during or after that employment, will be submitted to binding arbitration. I agree that such arbitration shall be conducted under the rules of the American Arbitration Association. This application contains the entire agreement between the parties with regard to dispute resolution, and there are no other agreements as to dispute resolution, either oral or written.

Id. at 1467 (citation omitted). The agreement was contained in an employment application and clearly provided: “Please Read Carefully, Initial Each Paragraph and Sign Below.” Plaintiff also initialed next to the paragraph that contained the arbitration agreement. The court found that simply because the agreement in that case was an adhesion contract (or on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis), it still did not render the agreement unenforceable because the agreement was fair. Even though the agreement contained the words “I agree”, this did not render the arbitration agreement to only bind the employee and not the employer to the arbitration agreement.

The Roman court also noted that even if the agreement “were somehow ambiguous on this point, given the public policy favoring arbitration [citation] and the requirement we interpret the provision in a manner that renders it legal rather than void [citation], we would necessarily construe the arbitration agreement as imposing a valid, mutual obligation to arbitrate.” Roman, supra, 172 Cal.App.4th at p. 1473.  Employers should consider the pros and cons of having employees enter into arbitration agreements, and as this case illustrates, courts are likely to enforce the agreement if it is properly drafted. 

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