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Arbitrating claims? Chances are appeals court will uphold decision

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When employees and employers freely agree to arbitrate disputes and submit those disputes to an impartial decision-maker, chances are a federal court won’t reverse that decision.

In fact, courts are required to resolve doubts in favor of arbitration, so those who try to bring lawsuits don’t get a “second bite at the apple.”

Recent case:
Noris Rogers was an electrician who signed a contract with KBR Technical Services to work for the company in Afghanistan. The agreement included a clause requiring arbitration to resolve any employment or contract claims.

Rogers complained to management about alleged problems at the base in Afghanistan and demanded a one-way commercial plane ticket home. When KBR denied his request, he left the base without permission and tried to buy a ticket on his own. However, he lacked the appropriate visa, so he couldn’t leave on a commercial flight.

When Rogers tried to get back on base, he was detained for breaking the rules and sent  to Bagram Air Field to wait for a military flight home. KBR fired him.

Rogers demanded arbitration, claiming the company owed him money for breaching the employment contract. When the arbitrator awarded him all of $252.84, he appealed.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the arbitrator’s decision, concluding the arbitrator’s decision was rational and based on the contract he was supposed to interpret. (Rogers v. KBR Technical Services, et al., No. 08-20036, 5th Cir., 2008)

Bottom line:
When attorneys draft tight arbitration clauses, employers’ litigation costs often fall. But don’t rely on off-the-shelf forms—have your attorney prepare your arbitration agreements. Otherwise, you may end up spending more time and money defending the agreement in court.

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