Michael J. Rankin reports on a recent case dealing with an employee’s waiver of a jury trial pursuant to an employment contract.
An employee brought suit against his former employer alleging breach of contract and violation of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 et seq. CEPA is New Jersey’s “Whistleblower Act” protecting employees from retaliation after they disclose, refuse to participate in or object to their employer’s participation in unlawful or harmful activity.
Pursuant to a jury-waiver provision in plaintiff’s employment contract, the trial court denied his demand for a jury. Following a bench trial, the trial court dismissed plaintiff’s claims. Plaintiff appealed, challenging, amongst other things, the trial court’s application of the jury-waiver provision to the CEPA claim.
New Jersey’s Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s judgment, holding that the jury-waiver provision to the CEPA claim was not legally enforceable as written. The provision in the employment contract stated the parties “irrevocably waive any right to trial by jury in any suit, action or proceeding under, in connection with or to enforce this Agreement.” However, the provision made no reference to statutory claims and did not define the scope of claims as including all claims relating to plaintiff’s employment. Thus, the Appellate Division concluded that the jury-waiver provision failed to clearly and unambiguously explain the right to a jury trial being waived as to a CEPA claim and remanded the case back to the trial court for a jury trial on that claim.
Employers in the process of preparing or looking to update their employment contracts and employees faced with an employment contract should have the contract evaluated by an attorney to confirm whether the provisions included in the contract are enforceable under state and federal law.
Please contact Michael J. Rankin if you have any questions or need any assistance in connection with this subject.