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Employment Discrimination Claim Compelled to Arbitration Despite Arguments That “Clickwrap” Stock Incentive Agreement and Discovery Limitations Were Unconscionable

The court granted Aetna’s motion to compel arbitration of a former employee’s age and disability wrongful termination claims that alleged violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The plaintiff argued that the arbitration provision in a stock option web-based clickwrap agreement to which he agreed was invalid on the grounds of both procedural and substantive unconscionability. The court, however, found that clickwrap agreements are valid and enforceable under applicable New Jersey law and that Aetna provided sufficient evidence illustrating that acceptance of the terms of the stock agreement through the website was a necessary precondition to the plaintiff’s receipt of stock options in each year. The court held that the contract was not procedurally unconscionable because even assuming the stock agreement was presented on a “take-it-or-leave-it basis,” the plaintiff was free to decline it and would not have suffered negative consequences.

The court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the contract was substantively unconscionable. The court disagreed with the plaintiff’s contention that the arbitration provision mandated submission of the plaintiff’s claims to an “inherently unfair and biased arbitral forum,” noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected this idea. Additionally, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that a contract provision limiting discovery during arbitration was substantively unconscionable. The court determined that the discovery provision was “less severe” than the provisions found by other New Jersey courts to be unconscionable. The discovery provision was not overly restrictive because it authorized the arbitrator to permit further discovery, which was not tied to an “impossibly high burden.” The court further noted that the plaintiff did not demonstrate how the discovery provision impaired his ability to litigate his case fairly. The plaintiff merely stated that “discovery is particularly important in the employment discrimination context.” Such contentions, however, are insufficient.

Falk v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., No. 3:19-cv-00434 (D.N.J. Aug. 31, 2019).

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About this Author

Michael Wolgin, Insurance lawyer, Carlton Fields

Michael Wolgin defends insurance companies and financial services institutions in complex litigation matters in federal and state courts throughout the United States. His practice includes class action defense, consumer fraud, and commercial litigation. In addition, he represents and counsels insurance companies in regulatory matters, including multi-state market conduct examinations.

Michael’s extensive class action and complex litigation experience includes handling matters across multiple lines of insurance (for example, life insurance, reinsurance, supplemental health insurance...