Friday, June 30, 2006

Mandatory Arbitration Agreement Enforced Against Maryland Employee At Will

In Holloman v. Circuit City Stores (March 13, 2006), the Maryland Court of Appeals enforced a mandatory arbitration agreement against an employee who attempted to pursue her discrimination claim in court. The agreement:
  • was a condition of applying for a job with Circuit City;
  • could be amended only by Circuit City once per year provided the company gave 30 days notice of its intention to alter the agreement's terms;
  • applied to "any and all claims;"
  • did not confer any rights to the applicant or employee -- if hired, he or she remained an "at will" employee.

The five judge majority opinion held that the arbitration agreement was enforceable and thus prohibited the employee from pursuing her claims in court. (She was required to pursue them through arbitration). Writing for the majority, Judge Battaglia found "Circuit City's promise to arbitrate . . . constitutes consideration. . . " Chief Judge Bell (joined by Judge Greene) stated that the agreement was a contract of adhesion and was unconscionable because of the extraordinary difference in bargaining power between the parties.

The lesson in Holloman is that Maryland employers can require that their employees consent to arbitration as a condition of employment. Such agreements require carefully drafting and should be reviewed by counsel.

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