The Texas Supreme Court has handed an important victory to Texas employers eager to avoid jury trials for employment disputes: It ruled that, as long as the employees are at-will workers, threatening to fire them for refusing to give up the right to a jury trial does not invalidate the agreement.
That’s because at-will employees can be fired for just about any reason—or no reason—other than clearly illegal ones like race or sex.
Recent case: Steven Valdez worked at a car dealership for 28 years. Although he had been approached about signing the employee handbook acknowledgment and agreeing to waive his right to take any complaints to a jury, he never signed.
Finally, when his supervisor told him that he would lose his job if he didn’t sign, Valdez complied.
Later, Valdez was fired and sued for age discrimination. He demanded a jury trial, arguing that he had been coerced into signing the agreement. The dealership protested, claiming Valdez had waived his right to a jury trial. The case made its way to the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled in the dealership’s favor.
The justices wrote that since “an employer has the legal right to terminate an at-will employee, a threat to exercise that right cannot amount to coercion that would invalidate a jury waiver agreement.” The court concluded that since the dealership was free to fire Valdez at any time, its threat to fire him for not signing the agreement wasn’t coercion. (In Re Frank Kent Motor Company, No. 10-0687, Supreme Court of Texas, 2012)
Advice: Have your attorney review your handbook and recommend any changes. If employees aren’t already waiving the right to a jury trial, ask if adding a waiver is a good idea.