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An agreement to arbitrate disputes over wages is permissible under the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law because the WPCL doesn’t grant an absolute right to file an action in court, a Philadelphia common pleas court judge has ruled. The case of Weiner v. Pritzker has been knocked out of court as a result. Weiner was filed in August and placed in the Commerce Program of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Fred Weiner ended his employment with Omicron, a computer consulting company, and he sued Omicron CEO Randy Pritzker and Valerie DeRusso, an officer of the corporation, as individuals. Weiner alleged Omicron refused to pay him $375,000 to which he was entitled pursuant to a 1993 “executive management plan” he signed with the company. The plan included an arbitration provision that said any dispute arising from the subject matter of the plan would be handled by arbitration. Weiner said this restriction violated the WPCL because the statute “unambiguously guarantees an absolute right to pursue a wage claim in a court of law” and also expressly forbids the contravention of any provision of the WPCL by private agreement. Although the WPCL forbids the contravention of a provision by private agreement, Judge Albert W. Sheppard Jr. said that “a plain reading of the pertinent [WPCL] provision … reveals that the WPCL does not grant an absolute right to file an action in court.” The judge sustained the preliminary objections of the defendants. Sheppard said that language in the WPCL is permissive about the right to get into court and is not mandatory, since it states that “actions by an employee … to whom any type of wages is payable to recover unpaid wages and liquidated damages may be maintained in any court of competent jurisdiction.” (Emphasis in opinion.) “The legislature’s reliance on the word ‘may’ demonstrates that maintaining an action in a court of competent jurisdiction is permissive�,” Sheppard wrote. “Weiner has not demonstrated where in the WPCL there exists language that supports his position that he has [an] absolute right to sue in a court.” Sheppard said the arbitration agreement was valid. AGENCY Weiner had alternatively argued that the case could not go to arbitration because the arbitration agreement wasn’t signed by the defendants. Since Pritzker and DeRusso of Omicron did not sign the agreement, they have no right to enforce it, he said. But Sheppard said that where there is an “obvious and close nexus” between non-signatories and the contract or the contracting parties, non-signatories may enforce an agreement. The obvious and close nexus created in this case was the principal-agent relationship between both Pritzker and DeRusso to Omicron, the judge said. Moreover, Weiner acknowledged in his complaint that the defendants were Omicron agents, Sheppard said. “Having described Pritzker and DeRusso as agents of Omicron, Weiner cannot now ignore the ramifications of agency theory and argue that Pritzker and DeRusso are not bound to the arbitration agreement, which their principal, Omicron, entered into with Weiner. Accordingly, this court finds that a valid arbitration agreement exists between Pritzker and DeRusso, as agents of Omicron, and Weiner.”

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