Labor Law

Bryan Cavanaugh, Esquire

Plaintiffs’ alleged agreements to submit claims against Anheuser-Busch, Inc. (A-B) to binding arbitration are not supported by consideration. A-B therefore cannot compel arbitration. Marzette v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., No. 97160 (Mo. App. E.D., April 17, 2012), Norton, J.

When Plaintiffs applied for employment with Anheuser-Busch, Inc. (A-B), they completed a written employment application that contained language that if they became employed by A-B, then arbitration would be the exclusive method for final and binding resolution of any claim against A-B. Plaintiffs were then hired by A-B. They earned an hourly wage and were members of a union.

Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in March 2010 alleging A-B had discriminated against them in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act. Eleven months later, A-B moved to compel arbitration of Plaintiffs’ claims. The trial court denied that motion to compel on the bases that Plaintiffs’ never accepted an agreement to arbitrated, the purported agreements were not supported by consideration, and A-B’s dispute resolution program did not apply to Plaintiffs because they were neither salaried nor non-union. A-B appealed.

Held: Affirmed. The court of appeals agreed with the trial court that the purported agreements lacked consideration. It affirmed on that basis and did not address the trial court’s conclusions that Plaintiffs did not agree to the purported agreements and that the program’s own terms did not apply to Plaintiffs.

A-B first argued that its willingness to consider Plaintiffs for employment constituted consideration. The court of appeals noted this was a matter of first impression. It cited a 2001 federal district court opinion from Indiana and held that an employer’s willingness to consider an applicant for employment is insufficient consideration to support a prospective employee’s waiver of the right to a jury trial for employment disputes wholly unrelated to the application or hiring process.

A-B next argued that its employment offers to Plaintiffs constituted sufficient consideration. However, the promise and the consideration must be motives for each other. Here, Plaintiff’s promises to submit claims to arbitration were made before any employment offer from A-B. Therefore, A-B’s employment offers cannot constitute consideration to support the alleged arbitration agreements.

Third, A-B argued mutual promises in the arbitration agreement served as consideration. However, A-B made no promises in the arbitration agreement. It did in the dispute resolution policy, but that policy was not incorporated into the employment applications nor known by Plaintiffs during the application process. Therefore, the court of appeals inferred the arbitration agreements lacks mutual promises.

Missouri public policy encourages organ donation. An employee discharged for being an organ donor has a claim under the public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. Delaney v. Signature Health Care Foundation, No. 97419 (Mo. App. E.D., May 22, 2012), Norton, J.

Shortly after beginning work for Signature, Delaney learned her brother had been diagnosed with kidney failure and required a kidney transplant to survive. Delaney was found to be an appropriate donor, and she notified Signature of her decision to donate and that she would be absent for four weeks after surgery. Signature initially approved her leave but three days before the surgery, told her it could not hold her position and discharged her.

Delaney sued, claiming she was wrongfully discharged in violation of public policy. Upon Signature’s motion, the trial court dismissed this claim because Delaney failed to establish a clear mandate of public policy required for the public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine.

Held: Reversed and remanded. Delaney was proceeding under one of the four categories of the public policy exception, i.e. acting in a manner public policy would encourage. Delaney’s petition cited several Missouri statutes that she contended demonstrate Missouri’s public policy encourages organ donation. The court of appeals agreed. The statutes Delaney cited, and others, reflect a clear mandate of public policy in Missouri encouraging organ donation. Delaney’s petition therefore stated a claim, and the trial court erred in dismissing it. (See also summary of this case under Labor Law-Federal).