A New Jersey appeals court has upheld as enforceable an employment agreement that requires that workers who allege discrimination in the workplace pursue their complaints through arbitration rather than litigation.
A two-judge Appellate Division panel in an unpublished opinion released Oct. 20 said the defendant, furniture retailer Raymour & Flanigan, did not violate public policy by requiring new workers to sign the arbitration agreement.
According to the decision, plaintiff Kuashema Riley worked for a Raymour & Flanigan outlet in December 2012 as a saleswoman. During that time, she alleged, the store managers played rap music that contained objectionable words, such as the n-word, “bitch,” “ho” and “slut.” One manager, she claimed, used the n-word and “faggot” repeatedly.
Also, one store employee, defendant Moshin Chunawala, allegedly emailed a photo of his penis to another worker, which became common knowledge around the store.
Riley claimed she complained to her superiors and was fired. She then filed a complaint in Hudson County Superior Court.
A trial judge agreed with Raymour that the arbitration agreement was enforceable, and dismissed Riley’s claim on summary judgment. Riley appealed.
On appeal, Riley argued that the agreement, part of which was called the Employee Arbitration Program, was unconscionable, unenforceable and a violation of public policy. She also argued that it was unfair to her because it required her to pay a filing fee, and that it was signed under duress since she had to sign it in order to be allowed to work.
Appellate Division Judges Harry Carroll and Hany Mawla rejected those arguments.
They noted that the standard arbitration filing fee in New Jersey is $200, and that Raymour would be required to pay all other fees.
These fees do not render the EAP unconscionable since Riley would be responsible for covering filing fees if she were allowed to pursue her claims in Superior Court, Carroll and Mawla said.
And, they added, it has long been accepted that public policy is strongly in favor of using arbitration to settle disputes rather than litigation.
As for her claim of having to sign the agreement under duress, the judges noted that the state Supreme Court, in its 2002 ruling in Martindale v. Sandvik, said it was permissible to require prospective employees to sign arbitration agreements as a precondition of employment.
“The record lacks objective evidence of duress exerted by R&F,” the judges said.
Neither Riley’s attorney, Montclair solo Mark Mulick, nor Raymour’s attorney, Ivan Novich of the Newark office of Littler Mendelson, returned telephone calls seeking comment.