Texas courts routinely enforce arbitration agreements between employers and their employees. In most parts of the state, lawyers representing employees agree to go to arbitration upon being presented with a copy of an arbitration agreement signed by the plaintiff-employee. On occasion, however, there are disputes over the enforceability of an arbitration agreement. The Supreme Court of Texas’ recent opinion spotlights another challenge to an employer’s alternative dispute resolution program.
In In re Odyssey Healthcare, Maria Morales sued her El Paso-based employer (and her supervisor) for negligence after she was injured at work when she tripped on an uneven step at a patient’s home. Odyssey is a non-subscriber (i.e., it does not have workers’ compensation insurance) and provides its employees with an “Occupational Injury Benefit Plan.” All Odyssey employees must enroll in the program as a condition of employment. The program requires that all disputes between the employer and employee must be resolved through mandatory, binding arbitration. The arbitration was to be conducted with an arbitrator selected from a panel based in Dallas. The employer reserved the right to modify or terminate the arbitration program, but only after providing the employees with advance notice.
The plaintiff challenged the arbitration program arguing that it was invalid, unenforceable and substantively unconscionable; it violated the Texas Workers Compensation Act’s non-waiver provisions; the Federal Arbitration Act violated the Tenth Amendment by encroaching on a state’s power to enact and regulate its workers’ compensation system; and the agreement was illusory. The Texas Supreme Court rejected each of these arguments and directed the trial court to vacate its prior order and grant the motion to compel arbitration.
You can access the full opinion here.