The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a former Pfizer employee can’t bring a discrimination lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company because she waived the right to do so.
Amy Skuse, a former Pfizer flight attendant, claims she was fired in 2017 for refusing to accept a yellow fever vaccine because it went against her religious beliefs. However, Pfizer argued that she waived her right to sue but could instead pursue arbitration.
On Tuesday, a majority of justices reversed a previous state appellate court decision that allowed Skuse to take her case before a jury, finding that she was “clearly informed” that she gave up her right to sue the pharmaceutical giant for employment discrimination.
The majority said that a mutual arbitration and class waiver agreement, along with “related communications,” put her on notice that “she was deemed to assent to” the agreement if she was employed for the company for 60 days after receiving it.
“Those communications clearly and unmistakably explained the rights that Skuse would waive by agreeing to arbitration, thus complying with waiver-of-rights case law, and Pfizer’s delivery of the agreement by email did not warrant its invalidation,” the majority said.
The trial court dismissed the suit in February 2018, saying Skuse had an “apparent intent” to be bound by the arbitration agreement, which was part of a “module-based training program” the company offered, according to court documents.
But a state court appellate panel in January 2019 overturned the trial court, finding that the module fell short of the requirements set forth in the state Supreme Court’s 2003 Leodori v. Cigna opinion, which held that a valid waiver of an employee’s statutory rights “results only from an explicit, affirmative agreement that unmistakably reflects the employee’s assent.”
Tuesday’s majority opinion overturned the January 2019 appellate panel decision.
“We are pleased with the decision, which reflects that our arbitration program was appropriately implemented and communicated to our employees, consistent with applicable legal requirements,” Pfizer said in a statement to Law360.
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