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Employee Entitled to Day in Court
by Michael Blahy
Even though having an Employee Arbitration Agreement in place, Dollar General is being required to defend itself in a court of law.
On May 28, 2015, Rebecca Keyes, an employee at Dollar General in Mize Mississippi processed a cash reload to a money network card. It did not go through properly. She informed her manager and was told not to worry about it and place the receipt on the office desk. Five days later, Ms. Keyes was arrested for embezzlement. By mid July 2015, Dollar General representatives did not appear to prosecute their claims, so Rebecca Keyes was found not guilty and the charges were dismissed.
Keyes, filed a lawsuit against Dollar General alleging malicious prosecution, infliction of emotional distress, defamation, false imprisonment, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.
Since Dollar General had an Employee Arbitration Agreement in place and Keyes checked the box agreeing; to have “any legal claims or disputes that you may have against Dollar General … arising out of employment … or termination of employment … will be addressed in the manner described in this Agreement. You also understand that any Covered Claims that Dollar General may have against you related to your employment will be addressed in the manner described in this Agreement.”; Dollar General filed a motion to dismiss and compel arbitration. Smith County Court agreed with Dollar General.
Keyes appealed, arguing that the claims are not covered by the arbitration agreement and that Dollar General waived its right to arbitration by filing criminal charges.
The appeals court found that “Keyes’s claims are beyond the scope of the Arbitration Agreement. When Keyes agreed to arbitrate all claims arising out of her employment or termination of employment with Dollar General, no evidence was presented that she contemplated she would be arrested for embezzlement and later have those charges dismissed after Dollar General refused to prosecute. The Arbitration Agreement specifically identified defamation as a covered claim. However, as the author of the Arbitration Agreement, Dollar General did not include claims of malicious prosecution, infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation as covered claims.” Also “The law does not require choosing between reporting a crime and maintaining the right to arbitrate future disputes that may arise. Dollar General did not have to arbitrate whether Keyes had committed a crime. Dollar General was not limited to arbitration to seek recoupment of its lost funds. Therefore, Dollar General was not avoiding an arbitration action because it was not required to arbitrate a criminal action under the plain language of the arbitration agreement.”
In a dissenting in part opinion, four of the nine justices found “Under the arbitration clause at issue here, a plaintiff’s claims must arise out of or relate to his or her employment or termination to be subject to arbitration. Keyes’s defamation claim bears no more relation to her employment or termination than her other claims, which the majority correctly finds are outside the scope of the parties’ arbitration agreement. Thus, despite the inclusion of “defamation” as a Covered Claim, I would find that the parties did not intend that Keyes would be forced to arbitrate a defamation claim based on Dollar General’s filing of a criminal complaint for embezzlement against her.”
The Appeals Court judgement “The order dismissing Keyes’s claims for malicious prosecution, infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation against Dollar General and compelling arbitration of them is reversed, and these claims are remanded to the Smith County Circuit Court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
(Keyes v. Dollar General Corporation, NO. 2017-IA-00010-SCT)
Decision: April 2018
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