In deciding a reoccurring issue, Judge James D. Peterson of the Western District of Wisconsin found no valid arbitration agreement existed, because of a disclaimer in a 48-page employee handbook. See O’Bryan v. Pember Companies, Inc., Case No. 20-cv-664jdp, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88300 (N.D. Wisc. May 10, 2021).
In O’Bryan, an employee of Pember Companies Inc. brought a proposed class and collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Wisconsin law for unpaid wages. Pember responded with a motion to compel arbitration based on a dispute resolution procedure contained in its handbook, which provides:
I agree that all problems, claims and disputes experienced by me or Pember . . . related to my employment shall be resolved as outlined below. I agree to submit all such disputes to final and binding arbitration. Arbitration shall be the sole and exclusive forum and remedy for all covered disputes of either Pember . . . or me. (Emphasis added.)
The dispute resolution policy limited employees to individual claims and not class or collective actions. Further, the policy declared that it is “binding” and provided that the employee has read the entire provision and understands its restrictions and that the provision can only be revised by Pember’s president. But the handbook did not conclude with that language but also contained an employee acknowledgment form on its last page, which O’Bryan signed. That form, however, created enforcement problems for the dispute-resolution policy despite its seemingly straightforward language. Continue Reading