Clicking an electronic button in an employee training document does not count as agreeing to waive one’s right to sue, according to a New Jersey Appeals Court. In this case, Pfizer Inc. was challenged by an employee who sued the company for religious discrimination. The company argued that she waived her right to sue by consenting to mandatory arbitration. Pfizer Inc. stated that the employee had viewed an online training document and clicked a button to acknowledge receipt of the arbitration policy, as had all employees.
Many consumers or employees can relate to the now common process of scrolling through information and clicking on a button to indicate that the reader has read the document, whether it be for a credit card, cell phone contract, or employment. However, this appeals court in New Jersey ruled that Pfizer Inc.’s use of an acknowledge button in an online employee training form was inadequate to waive the employee’s right to access the courts. The ruling also invalidated Pfizer Inc.’s policy that consent was assumed after 60 days, even if an employee did not click the button but continued working for Pfizer.
Mandatory arbitration clauses are found in employment contracts. These clauses require the signee to agree to an arbitration process in the case of disputes or complaints, rather than proceed to court. Mandatory arbitration clauses vary in their details and block a wronged party from seeking any legal relief by forcing them into a secretive process. They prohibit appeals of unfavorable decisions, and limit the right to participate in other remedies, such as class action lawsuits.
Corporations use mandatory arbitration to restrict a variety of consumer and employee rights. In employment, corporations often use forced arbitration to get around employment discrimination laws and employees lack recourse in court. In many cases, the signers are unaware they have consented to forced arbitration and do not find out until a serious issue arises and they attempt to seek a legal remedy.
In the Pfizer Inc. case, the employee sued for religious discrimination. As a practicing Buddhist, she refused to receive a vaccination for yellow fever, which the company required for her employment in their airport facility. She argued that the vaccine’s animal-based ingredients violated her religious beliefs. This court case did not rule on the merits of her employment discrimination case but only on whether she had the right to sue her employer. Following the state appeals court decision, Pfizer Inc. said that it is weighing whether to appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court.