A Texas appellate court recently provided a valuable lesson in the very basics of arbitration agreements. In Delfingen US-Texas, LP v. Valenzuela*, the Court struck down an otherwise excellent arbitration agreement because the employer failed to take one very basic step to ensure enforcement.
The plaintiff in this case was hired and immediately walked through the new-hire process. The entire process was conducted in Spanish, because plaintiff and other new hires lacked English literacy. As part of the process, the supervisor met individually with each new hire to discuss the "important" policies, and then had them sign a variety of documents, one of which was a mandatory arbitration agreement, and all of which were in English, not Spanish. When plaintiff was fired and subsequently sued for wrongful discharge in breach of public policy, the employer claimed the lawsuit was subject to mandatory arbitration. Both the trial court and the Texas Court of Appeals disagreed.
The employer argued that it was not required to translate the arbitration agreement, particularly since plaintiff was given time to have the documents translated by her family members but did not, and plaintiff failed to ask anyone what she was signing when she executed the arbitration agreement. The Texas courts were unmoved. The Court of Appeals explained that, because the employer knew the plaintiff was illiterate in English, it had a duty to translate the document into Spanish, or at least inform the plaintiff what it was she was signing and what it meant.
Basic arbitration lesson of the day: An arbitration agreement isn't even as good as the language it's written in when dealing with employees who speak a different language.