The First Circuit Court of Appeals recently held, in Campbell v. General Dynamics Government Systems Corp., that an employer’s use of email was insufficient to notify employees regarding a mandatory arbitration policy. As a result, the court dismissed the company’s attempt to force employees to arbitrate a grievance under the Americans with Disabilities Act, rather than bringing suit in court.
In upholding the federal District Court’s ruling in favor of the employee, Roderick Campbell, the First Circuit held that the email was insufficient notice to him of the mandatory arbitration policy, where ADEA required that agreements to arbitrate must be set forth in a written provision of a contract. The court pointed to the letter’s failure to inform employees that the attached policy affected their legal rights to bring suit in court and to emphasize the mandatory nature of the attached policy.
The court emphasized, however, that notice via email was not per se insufficient. The court determined here that had the email (a) been more specific in setting out the details of the arbitration policy, or (b) included a way for employees to acknowledge acceptance, it may have been sufficient. Further, the court pointed out that employees could be put on notice, where a pattern of communicating employment terms via email was established.
In this case, though, the notice came by company wide email consisting of a letter from the president of the company and an attachment. The letter encouraged recipients to read the attachments carefully, as the policy was an integral part of their employment. The attachment contained a copy of the policy, claims forms and a brochure summarizing the policy.
Campbell was subsequently fired, and he sued, claiming discrimination. The employer petitioned the federal District Court to order plaintiff to bring his claim under the arbitration policy, and was denied.