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Retaliatory Discharge Claim
Must go to Arbitration
Agreement provided
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.