Ashbey v. Archstone Prop. Mgmt.

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Contract Law
  • Date Filed: 05-12-2015
  • Case #: 12-55912
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Bea for the Court; Circuit Judges Bybee and Christen
  • Full Text Opinion

A plaintiff may not waive their right to a judicial forum under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, unless they knowingly waive it.

Michael Ashbey was employed at Archstone Communities LLC (“Archstone”) from December 1996, to November 2010. In 2009, Ashbey signed an acknowledgment of receipt of Archstone's Company Policy Manual. The acknowledgement included language such as “I understand that it is my responsibility to understand the Archstone Company Policy Manual, including the Dispute Resolution Policy.” Ashbey was later fired, which he believed was in retaliation for his wife filing a harassment complaint against Archstone. Ashbey filed suit in 2011, for unlawful retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, among other claims. Archstone had the case removed to federal court, and filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration according to the company’s Dispute Resolution Policy. The district court ruled in favor of Ashbey, finding he did not knowingly waive his right to a jury trial. According to 9 U.S.C. § 2, compelled arbitration is proper when a party shows “(1) the existence of a valid, written agreement to arbitrate; and (2) that the agreement to arbitrate encompasses the dispute at issue.” In addition, Title VII limits the enforcement of arbitration with regard to claims arising under it. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the phrase “where appropriate” in a Title VII 1991 amendment, signals that a plaintiff cannot waive their right to a judicial forum, unless they do so knowingly. The panel ruled that the acknowledgement of receipt was explicit in stating that Ashbey agreed “to adhere” to the company’s Dispute Resolution Policy. The panel reasoned that anybody who reviewed the policy would immediately realize that they were waiving a remedy afforded by Title VII, and that the language used in the Dispute Resolution Policy was not ambiguous. The panel held that Ashbey knowingly waived his right to judicial forum and had an express choice. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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