“If I win in arbitration, must I sign away my rights?”

Question: I reported sexual harassment and false evaluations. I also got two disciplinary write-ups that were trumped up. I just went through an arbitration, and won the right to be reinstated into my job.

In order to get what I won in arbitration, can they make me sign away my employee rights?

Safford, Arizona

Answer: M.B.: First and foremost, congratulations on standing up to both sexual harassment and false evaluations!! The more that people stand up for themselves at work, the easier it will be for others to do so. In fact, the more that people stand up for themselves at work, the less that other people will have to. Hat’s off to you!!

Now, let me address your question:

1. When an employee and an employer settle a dispute between themselves – without having to go through a full arbitration or a trial – almost always, as part of the settlement deal, the employer wants, and gets, a full waiver and release of all other claims. This is part of every kind of settlement, whether it is over a car accident or malpractice by a doctor. The idea is this: if we are going to settle, we are going to FULLY settle. So, when things are settled, a full waiver and release of other claims is almost always part of “the deal.” Otherwise, the parties would be concerned that a new arbitration or litigation would start the next day, and the fighting would never be over. It’s like a peace treaty at the end of a war.   

2. However, when an arbitration panel renders an “award,” or a jury renders a judgment (such as your reinstatement), the employer cannot then place conditions – such as a waiver or release of other claims – on its obeying the judgment. By that time, it’s just too late. When the employee wins – like you did – the employer has no say in the terms or the conditions of the final award or judgment. It lost its chance to do just that when it failed to settle beforehand.   

3. But, you must read the arbitration “award” of the arbitrators carefully, for it might cut off certain of your “rights.” It is possible that you (or your attorney) raised, say, four claims, and that the arbitration award dismissed three of the four. In that case, you would have no right to again raise any of those other claims. Also, arbitrators’ authority to make any “award” they wish – even an award that might cut off certain of your rights – is almost unlimited. You, and your attorney if you used one, must read the arbitration “award” very carefully to ensure you know what it is you won, and whether the award, itself, might have cut off any of your future rights.

M.B., bottom line is you won, and you have a right to whatever you won without your employer now having any right or way to put “strings” on your getting what you won. It had a chance to settle, but failed to do so. That was their mistake, and your good fortune for standing up and lasting it out.

Again, M.B., hats off to you!! Hope this helps. Thanks for writing in. 

Al Sklover

P.S.: We now offer Model Letters entitled “Model Letter for Objecting to Illegal Discrimination – Age, Race, Gender or Disability,” that can be used to help people help themselves if they believe they have been affected by illegal discrimination. To obtain a copy of one of these useful model letters, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

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© 2012 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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