Employee Not Bound by Arbitration Clause to Collective Bargaining Agreement

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Attorney in Media, PA

Plaintiff, Anna J. Bates
(“Bates”) filed a lawsuit against defendants Delaware County Prison Employees’
Independent Union (“DCPEIU”) and Community Education Center, Inc. a/k/a George
W. Hill Correctional Facility (“CEC”) seeking damages in relation to her
termination from employment. Ms. Bates, a former corrections officer, alleges
that CEC mischaracterized the circumstances of her termination in order to
further its corporate downsizing agenda, bypass the progressive disciplinary
policy, breach the employment contract, and to avoid certain unemployment
compensation consequences. The net effect of that mischaracterization has
caused considerable harm to Ms. Bates’ reputation, impaired her employment
record and ability to seek gainful employment elsewhere, prevented her from
collecting unemployment compensation benefits, caused her severe financial
hardship, and diminished her lifetime earning capacity. 

Defendant CEC filed
preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer (i.e. a motion to dismiss) arguing
that Ms. Bates may not assert a claim for wrongful termination as her
employment was governed entirely by the grievance and arbitration provisions of
the collective bargaining agreement. Essentially, defendant CEC invoked the
arbitration clause, claiming it was the exclusive remedy available to Ms.
Bates. 

In her brief in opposition
to that demurrer, Ms. Bates argued that, although the collective bargaining
agreement seemingly mandates that all contractual claims are required to
proceed to arbitration, other portions of that same agreement could be read to
suggest otherwise, that arbitration is permissive rather than mandatory. This
renders the arbitration clause susceptible to more than one reasonable
interpretation (i.e. it is ambiguous language that must be construed against
the drafter and in favor of protecting important constitutional rights such as
the right to a trial by jury).  Moreover,
yet another ambiguity manifests from the fact that the arbitration language at
issue was inconspicuously placed within the agreement in such a manner the
waiver of the aforementioned constitutional rights (i.e. the right to a jury trial)
was not knowing and voluntary. Indeed, that arbitration language is found in
the middle of the collective bargaining agreement in lettering that was
entirely consistent with the remainder of the document (e.g., small font, approximately 22 characters per linear inch, far
smaller than standard 12 characters per linear inch). No mention of the
allegedly mandatory nature of the arbitration clause appears in any heading of
the agreement nor does it appear to have been accentuated with capital letters,
underlining, italics, bold lettering, larger font, etc. Nothing whatsoever
calls attention to this provision. In other words, the arbitration language is
impermissibly inconspicuous. Finally, Plaintiff argued, allowing contractual
claims to be vetted through arbitration, while tort claims that arise out of
the same transaction or occurrence proceed in Court, would violate the judicial
proscription against splitting the cause of action. 

On January 10, 2012, in an
Order without Opinion. the Honorable James F. Proud overruled the preliminary
objections filed by defendant CEC (i.e. denied their motion to dismiss) and ordered
CEC to file an Answer to the Complaint. In
Civil Action No. 12-007631, Plaintiff,
Anna J. Bates v. Delaware County Prison Employees’ Independent Union and Community
Education Center, Inc. a/k/a George W. Hill Correctional Facility (Delaware
County Court of Common Pleas, Pennsylvania, January 10, 2013).

Employee contests mandatory arbitration clause to collective bargaining agreement on grounds that it is susceptible to more than one meaning and inconspicuous (i.e. it is ambiguous language that must be construed against the drafter and in favor of protecting important constitutional rights such as the right to a trial by jury). Court ruling reflects that the Employee is not bound by that Arbitration Clause

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