Court Compels FMLA Employment Dispute to Arbitration, Finding That Arbitration Agreement Delegated Arbitrability to Arbitrator and Agreement Appeared Not to Be Void or Unconscionable

Carlton Fields
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Carlton Fields

A former executive and in-house lawyer for the Miami Heat basketball franchise sued the team for allegedly violating her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act when she was terminated from her employment. The Heat filed a motion to compel arbitration, which the plaintiff opposed. First, the plaintiff contended that the arbitrability of the dispute was for the court, not the arbitrator. The court disagreed, holding that, while the agreement did not contain an express delegation clause, the agreement’s incorporation of the American Arbitration Association rules served to delegate the issues regarding the validity of the arbitration agreement to the arbitrator.

The plaintiff also argued that the agreement was void as against public policy, contending that the agreement’s provisions for the arbitrator to award reasonable fees to the prevailing party and for each party to be responsible for one-half of any administrative costs imposed by the AAA precluded her from vindicating her complete rights under the FMLA. Although the court did not need to decide this issue – having already found that arbitrability was delegated to the arbitrator – the court found that even if the fees and costs provision was unenforceable due to a failure to provide the plaintiff with remedies fully consistent with the FMLA, the provision was not the essence of the parties’ agreement and was therefore severable.

The plaintiff also contended that the agreement was unconscionable because the Heat allegedly did not permit her time to review the agreement, seek legal counsel, or negotiate the terms. The court rejected this argument finding that the plaintiff failed to provide any evidence to “explain any specific reason she felt rushed to sign the agreement, had no ability to negotiate it, or lacked employment alternatives.” The court further rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the agreement was substantively unconscionable because it required her to arbitrate all her claims, “while only requiring the Defendant to arbitrate counterclaims that it ‘is or should be aware [of] at the time a demand for arbitration is made.'” The court explained that the plaintiff overlooked the provision in the agreement that required “that any claims ‘arising in the workplace environment’ be subject to arbitration.” “Certainly,” the court concluded, the agreement was not “outrageously unfair” and did not “otherwise shock the judicial conscience.” The court compelled arbitration and dismissed the case.

Yakovee v. Miami Heat L.P., No. 1:20-cv-20540 (S.D. Fla. Apr. 30, 2020).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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