: : Agreement to Arbitrate ERISA Claims Enforceable

It is well-established that Congress intended ADA and ERISA claims to be arbitrable. See, e.g., Simon v. Pfizer Inc., 398 F.3d 765, 774-75 (6th Cir. 2005) (collecting cases to support ERISA claims are subject to arbitration under FAA); Prachun v. CBIZ Benefits & Ins. Servs., Inc., No. 2:14-CV-2251, 2015 WL 5162522, at *5-6 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 3, 2015) (finding ERISA silent on arbitrability and weight of authority both in and out of the Circuit suggests ERISA does not preempt the FAA). . .
Rowe v. ZF North America, Inc. (N.D. Ohio 2021)

Given the breadth of ERISA preemption, the viability of arbitration clauses in the ERISA context is remarkably robust. In this case the district court explored the basis for the arbitration agreement and found the agreement enforceable.

Governing Law

So what law applies in the first place in this situation? “

State contract law governs the formation of arbitration agreements. First Options, 514 U.S. at 944. Rowe [the plaintiff] does not raise any specific contractual argument to dispute the formation of either arbitration agreement. In both instances, the agreement to arbitrate was valid.”

The plaintiff’s assent to the terms consisted of two signed documents.

         Rowe agreed to the TRW/KH Policy by way of signature on two occasions, his application and his offer letter. See Allied Steel and Conveyers, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 277 F.2d 907, 913 (6th Cir. 1960) (reiterating “the cardinal rule, that in the absence of fraud or willful deceit, one who signs a contract which he has had an opportunity to read and understand, is bound by its provisions.”).

Signature Not Required

So in this case the plaintiff signed two documents. But that wasn’t required for the agreement to be effective. The court noted that arbitration agreements need not be signed if the agreement is supported by consideration.

“there is no requirement that an arbitration agreement be signed in order to be valid and enforceable.” Dantz v. Apple Ohio LLC, 277 F.Supp.2d 794, 801 (N.D. Ohio 2003) (citing Brumm v. McDonald & Co. Sec’s, Inc., 603 N.E.2d 1141, 1145 (Ohio Ct. App. 1992)).  If the agreement is supported by consideration, including continued employment, it is binding. See, e.g., Dantz, 277 F.Supp.2d at 801 (“What is required to validate the arbitration agreement and make it contractual is an offer and acceptance supported by consideration.”); Raasch v. NCR Corp., 254 F.Supp.2d 847, 864 (N.D. Ohio 2003) (“[W]here an employer informs its employees that from this point forward, certain disputes must be directed to arbitration, while the employees are not obligated to continue in their employment, as long as they do, they are obligated to comply with the terms set by the employer . . . The consideration is given by the employer when the employee accepts the offer of continued employment.”).

Note: In cases of well drafted plan documents, reserving discretion to the plan administrator, and well formed and consistent administrative practice, perhaps arbitration offers no more security to an employer than the ERISA statutory scheme. On the other hand, if the employer prefers, the courts seem ready in most instances to compel arbitration where it has been contractually agreed.

Contesting Arbitration – To avoid arbitration, the plaintiff must show a defect in the agreement.

“Rowe does not raise any specific contractual argument to dispute the formation of either arbitration agreement. In both instances, the agreement to arbitrate was valid.”

Presumption of Arbitrability

“[T]he court should apply a presumption of arbitrability, resolve any doubts in favor of arbitration, and should not deny an order to arbitrate ‘unless it may be said with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute.’” United Steelworker of Am. v. Mead Corp., 21 F.3d 128, 131 (6th Cir. 1994) (quoting United Steelworkers of Am. v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation, Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582-83 (1960)).

Compare – :: Fifth Circuit Holds That ERISA Plaintiff Waived Arbitration Option