Many times job applications contain “legalese” – language
that may waive a right or in someway limit an employee’s path to
recovery. However, according to the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, provisions contained in a job application which limit an individual’s
legal remedies may not be enforceable if the applicant did not knowingly
or voluntarily waive those rights.
In Alonso v. Huron Valley Ambulance Co., the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
reviewed job applications signed by a married couple – Alan and
Kimberly Alonso – seeking positions as paramedics with an ambulance
company. Included on the forms were clauses providing that employees must
submit any employment disputes to a grievance review board, including
discrimination and contract issues. The forms also stated that candidates
hired by the company could not commence any employment related action
or legal proceeding for more than six months after the employment relationship
ended and required the candidate to “waive any statute of limitation
as to the contrary.”
The Alonsos signed these forms and were hired.
At an orientation meeting over a month later, the Alonsos received company
manuals detailing an elaborate grievance procedure, including a provision
that any dispute “arising out of or in connection with” employment,
including civil rights, tort and contract claims “shall be exclusively
subject to review by the Grievance Review Board” and any decision
reached by the board would be binding.
In 2007, Alan joined the Army National Guard. Shortly thereafter Alan was
fired for allegedly making false claims of being absent from work due
to military duty and testing positive for a prescribed medication. Alan
protested his firing, but the grievance board upheld the termination.
Alan then sued in federal court claimingretaliation, as well as being terminated in violation of
Kimberly joined the action as well, with allegations of sexual harassment,
discrimination and retaliation.
The trial court dismissed all claims holding that Alan had knowingly and
voluntarily waived his right to proceed on any claims he had submitted
to the board and that Kimberly had failed to exhaust her administrative
remedies by not following the grievance process.
On appeal, the 6th Circuit Court disagreed with the District Court –
holding that it was error to dismiss the claims. A unanimous Circuit Court
panel determined that the Alonso’s had not knowingly or voluntarily
waived their right to sue the company in court and reasoned that the Alonsos
were not properly informed about the grievance process when they initially
signed the job forms, and no evidence existed that they understood the
remedies they were foregoing. As a result, the court reinstated the Alonso’s
Employment applications and handbooks often contain confusing language and provisions, which can
limit your right to recovery or affect the available judicial remedies.
Although a court may find these provisions are not enforceable if you
do not “knowingly or voluntarily” sign them, the best course
of action is to have an attorney review any employment related documents
at the outset. If you have questions concerning employment applications
and contracts, please contact
The Buckley Law Firm, LLC, a Georgia law firm dedicated to protecting individual’s employment rights.