For many people, applying for a job is a relatively stressful process, and sometimes starting a new job can be, too. Imagine in the midst of these stresses being asked to sign a document written in a language you don’t read or speak. For some Spanish-speaking workers in California, that is what happens to them when they seek or start a new job. If you sign an agreement to arbitrate your employment disputes as part of the application or “new hire” processes that is written in a language you don’t understand, you may not be able to assert that that language barrier created a lack of mutual assent and therefore a lack of a valid contract. You may, however, have other avenues to assert that the foreign-language arbitration agreement you signed is not enforceable. If you find yourself in this type of scenario in your discrimination or wrongful termination lawsuit, you should be sure you have skilled California employment counsel representing you in your case.
The above general scenario is essentially what happened in M.M.’s case. M.M. had worked at a nursing home as a certified nursing assistant for five years when she filed a complaint against her employer. Among other things, the CNA alleged that her employer had engaged in disability discrimination and constructive wrongful termination. In response, the employer sought to take the dispute out of the courts and move it into an arbitration hearing. The employer argued that it was entitled to arbitration because it and the CNA had signed an agreement, as part of her employment application, agreeing to arbitrate all disputes that arose in relation to M.M.’s employment. M.M. also signed two subsequent documents in which she agreed to be bound by the employer’s “Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy,” which included arbitrating all employment disputes.
The CNA’s argument was that the agreement was not valid. Specifically, she asserted that she read and spoke Spanish, did not understand spoken or written English, and never received a copy of any of the arbitration agreement documents in Spanish. Because she allegedly never understood any of the arbitration agreement documents she signed, she argued that there was no “meeting of the minds” that is necessary for a valid and enforceable contract. She also argued that enforcing the agreement was unconscionable because the entity seeking to enforce the agreement did not sign the document. (The entity took over control of the operations at the facility where M.M. worked three years after she started in 2011).