Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Holds that Arbitration Clause Does Not Preclude MCAD Proceeding


The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently held that an employee could file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”), despite that she was subject to a valid arbitration agreement that expressly covered claims of employment discrimination. In Joulé, Inc. v. Simmons, Randi Simmons claimed that her employer, Joulé, subjected her to a hostile work environment and discriminated against her on the basis of gender and pregnancy. Although Simmons had signed an employment contract in which she expressly agreed to arbitrate any claims of discrimination, harassment and hostile work environment, Simmons filed a complaint with the MCAD instead of pursuing arbitration. Joulé then sued Simmons in Superior Court, requesting that the Court compel her to arbitrate her claims. Simmons opposed Joulé’s request, arguing that the arbitration provision was unenforceable, and regardless, did not prevent her from participating in the MCAD proceeding. The MCAD intervened in the case and argued that the parties’ agreement to arbitrate did not affect its authority to investigate and adjudicate Simmons’s claims. The Superior Court agreed with the MCAD. It denied Joulé’s motion to compel arbitration, held that Simmons could participate as a party in the MCAD matter, and stayed the court action pending resolution of her claims at the MCAD. The Court did not address whether the arbitration agreement was unenforceable.

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