The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division on Wednesday ruled that Pfizer’s method of obtaining employee agreement to arbitration was inadequate.
To obtain employee consent to arbitration, Pfizer emailed a training module to its employees. The training module contained information about Pfizer’s mandatory arbitration policy, and at the end asked the employee to click an “acknowledge” button to signify agreement. If the employee did not complete the training module but continued working for Pfizer, after 60 days the employee would be assumed bound by the arbitration policy.
The court held these procedures were not sufficient.
This case exemplifies an inadequate way for an employer to go about extracting its employees’ agreement to submit to binding arbitration for future claims and thereby waive their rights to sue the employer and seek a jury trial.
Among other issues, the court said the significance of the waiver was minimized when the company disseminated it via a “training module” and only had employees click “acknowledge” after reviewing the policy.
In sum, the wording and method of Pfizer’s training module is inadequate to substantiate an employee’s knowing and unmistakable assent to arbitrate and waive his or her rights of access to the courts. The trial court’s decision validating the company’s “acknowledgement” process is accordingly reversed.
The case arose from a religious discrimination suit against the company brought by a former employee. Pfizer argued the case should be arbitrated, citing both the Federal Arbitration Act and the New Jersey Uniform Arbitration Act, because of the plaintiff’s alleged consent to the training module.