Must go to Arbitration
Arbitrability was Umpire's Job
Richards Building Supply Company had its employees, including Ernest Carey, sign
a mandatory arbitration agreement. The agreement, by law, excluded "claims for
unemployment benefits and workers compensation." When Richards Building Supply
fired Carey, he claimed retaliation for filing a workers compensation claim
while employed. He sued in DeKalb County Court for retaliatory discharge.
The trial court ruled that the phrase "claims for workers compensation" was
ambiguous because it could be interpreted to include retaliatory discharge
claims, reasoning that an ordinary person could not distinguish between a
workers comp claim at the Commission and a civil case for retaliatory discharge
tort. Accordingly the employer's motion to stay the lawsuit was denied. The
court refused to compel arbitration.
But the parties had agreed that arbitrability was a question for the arbitrator
to decide, the appellate court found. Hence the trial court had no business
interpreting the agreement to exclude the claim. The question of whether a tort
claim in court for retaliation was a "claim for workers compensation" should
have been submitted to arbitration. So the Second District Appellate Court
remanded the case back to the trial court with directions to stay the
proceedings and have an arbitrator decide.