Plaintiff Wayland Hyde began employment with the Defendant as a jeweler in November 1987. In June 1998, the Defendant instituted a mandatory dispute resolution program. Pursuant to the program, all disputes alleging unlawful behavior between the Defendant and its employees were subject to a mandatory three-step dispute resolution process, culminating in binding Neither party could file a lawsuit instead of using the Program or accepting the arbitrator's final decision.
The Defendant publicized the Program by distributing materials to its regional managers, including Hyde. Plaintiff continued to work for the Defendant for more than eight years after the Program was adopted. He did not, however, sign any form expressing his agreement to be bound by the Program. In June 2006, Hyde filed a workplace claim with the Program. He abandoned the claim before binding arbitration and filed a civil suit against his employer alleging violation of this FMLA rights.
The employer filed a pretrial motion to enforce the arbitration agreement and, thereby, dismiss the civil suit. Hyde argued that the arbitration agreement should not be enforced because he refused to sign a form expressing his agreement to be bound by the terms of the Program. He argued that, absent a signature, he is not bound or barred from filing suit. The Court disagreed.
The Court noted that Hyde failed to cite any case law supporting his argument that execution of a document explicitly agreeing to be bound by arbitration is required in order for an employee to be bound by the terms of a dispute resolution program. Applying Ohio law, the Court opined that a contract exits when there is (1) mutual assent, (2) an offer and acceptance of the offer, and (3) consideration. Here, the Defendant extended an offer to all of its employees through its promotion of the Program. The only question was whether Hyde evidenced his intent to accept the offer.
The Court found that Hyde's failure to execute a formal agreement was not dispositive of the issue. The Court went on to find that Hyde's continued employment for eight years after the program was initiated, his intimate familiarity with the Program (as one of its publishers), and his use of the program established that Hyde accepted his employer's offer and was bound by the terms of the dispute resolution program. The Court granted the Defendant's motion to stay all proceedings pending arbitration.
Hyde v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc., No. 5:06-cv-02161, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81755 (N.D.Ohio Nov. 8, 2006)
Comment: There is a continuing dispute whether the anti-waiver provisions of the FMLA preclude an employer from enforcing an arbitration agreements. This case is interesting because the employee expressly refused to sign an agreement waiving his right to sue his employer, but the court enforced the ADR agreement anyway after finding agreement by his continued employment and use of the program.
The decision is relevant to all federal employee's except those covered by Title II (the OPM regulations). Title II does not permit civil suit for FMLA violations.