In a decision that makes little sense, the Texas Supreme Court has found that an employee can be forced to surrender his/her right to a jury trial. The employee, Steven Valdez, was told he had to sign the jury waiver provision. He was told that he would be fired if he did not sign it. He had worked at Frank Kent Cadillac for 28 years. He had resisted signing the jury waiver earlier. But, management told him he had to sign. See decision in In Re Frank Kent Motor Co.
About a year later, Mr. Valdez was laid off. He filed suit alleging age discrimination and requested a trial by jury. The employer moved to strike the jury demand. The employee responded by arguing the waiver was not "knowing, voluntary and intelligent," a legal standard.
In a strained decision, the court finds that the employee could have quit to avoid signing the jury waiver. The court applied contract principles to state that it is not coercion to exercise some legal right held by one of the parties. The employer has the right to fire the employee. Therefore, this pressure does not rise to the level of legal coercion. The court is essentially saying that since the employer has the legal right to fire someone, they can use that as a negotiating tool. As a negotiating technique, it cannot rise to the level of "legal coercion."
This logic fails on many levels. How many employees would not feel coerced to sign something when their boss says they have to sign it? This decision engages in hair splitting that avoids the reality most of us face. We cannot quit our jobs willy nilly. We are tremendously disinclined to go out looking for a new job – especially someone in his 50’s. I assume an employee with 28 years experience would be in his 50’s.
More importantly, it is simply poor legal reasoning. Contract principles presume both parties enjoy a level playing field. Most parties to any agreement are on equal footing when they negotiate a deal. Not so employers and employees. The employer has the right to fire. Yes, the employee can quit anytime. But, very few employee can afford to quit on short notice. But, most employers can afford to issue directives on short notice. Many employers can afford to threaten an employee with termination on short notice. This decision is wrong on many levels. But, it is now the law of the land in Texas.