A former Chili’s employee suffering from a rare medical disability who asserts that Chili’s discriminated against him and failed to accommodate his disability, in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJ LAD) will not be required to arbitrate his claims despite having signed an arbitration agreement at the time of his hire.
According to the lawsuit filed in the Superior Court for Monmouth County, New Jersey, the former employee , who worked as a dishwasher in the Eatontown, New Jersey Chili’s during the first half of 2012, suffers from a rare and extremely serious medical condition which causes potassium levels in the blood to drop, resulting in temporary paralysis. Despite the individual’s medical condition, the lawsuit alleges that the employee only requested two accommodations for his disability during his employment with Chili’s. The first time, the employee asserts that he became paralyzed from the waist down and required an accommodation so that he could continue working throughout the day. On the second occasion, he became paralyzed from the neck down, and missed a few days of work while he was in the emergency room.
According to the lawsuit, upon his return from work, the restaurant manager fired him, asserting that he could not afford to risk that the employee called out again. The employee filed a lawsuit alleging the employer violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by terminating him because of his medical condition and refusing to offer him an accommodation necessitated by his disability.
Brinker International, Inc., a multi-billion dollar restaurant company which owns Chili’s and Magiano’s, attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed, asserting that the employee had signed an arbitration agreement at the time of his hire. The agreement required that the employee bring the arbitration in Dallas, Texas – more than 1,300 miles from the restaurant where the alleged discriminatory acts occurred. In addition, the agreement required the employee to pay for half the costs of the arbitration, which could have amounted to tens of thousands of dollars. The employee argued that forcing him to arbitrate his claims in such a forum was unconscionable, and sought the Court hold that the agreement was unenforcable. In an order which should serve as a reminder that an arbitration agreement cannot work to create an unequal forum which serves the employer’s interests at the expense of the employee, the Court refused to enforce the arbitration agreement, and will permit the employee to bring his claims before a jury in Monmouth County.
The employee is represented by Swartz Swidler, LLC, an employment law firm based in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Written by Justin Swidler, Esq.