Since at least 2004 Texas law has permitted Texas employers to enter into predispute agreements with their employees to waive a right to a jury trial. The predispute waiver of the right to jury trial can be a desirable option for employers that would prefer to avoid the potential jury trial of a civil rights or employment dispute but also dislike the disadvantages that accompany the mandatory arbitration of disputes.
Last month the Supreme Court of Texas reinforced the enforceability of predispute contractual waivers of the right to a jury trial. In re Bank of America, N.A., — S.W.3d — (Tex. Feb. 27, 2009). The Court’s opinion should remind Texas employers of the availability of this option and of the advantages that such agreements may have over arbitration programs. For example, advantages that the wavier of the right to jury trial may enjoy over arbitration include: having a Texas state or federal judge decide the dispute; no expenses incurred in employing the decisionmaker (i.e., judge); and full rights to a meaningful appeal of an adverse decision.
Moreover, despite the current legislation in Congress that is intended to invalidate the predispute arbitration agreements between employers and employees to resolve employment disputes through arbitration, it is unlikely that contractual waivers of the right to a jury trial will be affected by any version of the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009. Texas employers utilizing mandatory arbitration programs may want to consider adopting a policy or program to make use of contractual waiver of jury trial if the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 passes and invalidates the predispute agreements to arbitrate civil rights and employment disputes.