The recent trend has been for courts to find arbitration agreements enforceable under both Federal and New Jersey employment law. However, prior to enforcing an arbitration agreement, courts must find that there was actually agreement. This simple concept was emphasized again by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey in the case of Christina Imperato v. Medwell, LLC.
In that case, Christina Imperato was hired by Medwell, a chiropractic office. She had a limited education and no prior medical or office experience. When she was hired, Dr. Ali Mazandarani sat with her and had her sign some pre-employment forms. They were not explained; Mazandarani sat with her, handed her the forms, and pointed to where she should sign. She was not given the opportunity to read these or take them home. The documents included a five page agreement which required that employment disputes be resolved by arbitration rather than court.
Imperato sued Medwell in the Superior Court of New Jersey for sexual harassment in violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. Medwell’s attorneys filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit and order the case to arbitration. The trial judge allowed discovery, including depositions, on the limited question of whether Imperato signed the arbitration agreement, and if so whether she signed it voluntarily and knowingly. The judge then held a hearing with live testimony on that single issue.