Requiring a job candidate who has been unemployed for six months to sign a pre-employment arbitration agreement as a condition of employment was not “unscrupulous,” a federal appellate court said on Friday when it overturned a lower court decision.
Claire Lambert was 57 years old and had unsuccessfully applied for a job for six months when she was offered a job at a unit in Louisville, Kentucky-based Signature Healthcare LLC that required her to sign a contract to settle employment disputes, according to the ruling. 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta i Claire Lambert v. Signature Healthcare LLC.
After she was fired by Signature, she sued the company, accusing her of violating the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and Florida law.
Signature was moved to write off the case and force an arbitration. The U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Florida, rejected the motion and was rejected by a unanimous panel of three judges in the Court of Appeals.
The district court concluded that the demand for the arbitration agreement was “procedurally unscrupulous”; because Ms. Lambert had not had a meaningful choice when she signed it, the appellate court’s decision said.
“It reasoned that the arbitration agreement was presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis as a condition of employment and that Lambert lacked alternative employment options,” it said.
But the fact that an arbitration agreement is presented on this basis “is not dispositive”, the panel said. The document “states that Lambert had the opportunity to ask questions about the arbitration agreement and consult with a lawyer before signing the arbitration agreement, and she chose not to do so,” it said.
She also did not present evidence that she had been actively discouraged or prevented from understanding the disputed contract terms, it said.
“For these reasons, we refuse to claim that under Florida law, an individual who applied for a job for six months, applied for approximately two jobs per week during that period, and faced the difficult potential choice to retire early and incur penalties for a meaningful choice when she signed an arbitration agreement as a condition of employment, ”said the panel when she overturned the lower court’s decision.
Lawyers in the case did not respond to a request for comment.