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State ex rel. Van Alst v. Harrell

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Writ Division

August 29, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI ex rel. RENEE VAN ALST and MELVIN SHELTON, Relators,
v.
HONORABLE KEVIN D. HARRELL, Judge, Circuit Court of Jackson County, Respondent.

         Original Proceeding on Petition for Writ of Mandamus or Prohibition

          Before: Edward R. Ardini, Jr., P.J., and Alok Ahuja and Gary D. Witt, JJ.

          ALOK AHUJA, JUDGE

         Relators Renee Van Alst and Melvin Shelton are former employees of Rainbow USA, Inc. They sued Rainbow, and a supervisor at Rainbow, alleging claims under the Missouri Human Rights Act and the Minimum Wage Law. The circuit court granted the defendants' motion to compel arbitration. Van Alst and Shelton filed a petition for a writ of mandamus or prohibition in this Court to challenge the order compelling arbitration. We issued a preliminary writ, which we now make permanent.

         Factual Background

         Van Alst and Shelton worked at a store operated by Rainbow in Kansas City. Pamela Thomas was a District Manager for Rainbow. Thomas was Van Alst and Shelton's direct supervisor from February 2013 until the termination of their employment in October 2014.

         On February 16, 2016, Van Alst and Shelton filed the underlying lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Jackson County against Rainbow and Thomas. No. 1616-CV03568. Their petition alleged employment discrimination on the basis of race and age in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act. The petition also alleged violations of the Minimum Wage Law for failing to pay Van Alst and Shelton for all hours worked, and for failing to pay overtime compensation to which they were entitled.

         The defendants moved to compel arbitration. The motion was based on purported arbitration agreements which are entitled "Acknowledgement, " and which were included in Rainbow's Employee Handbook. Van Alst and Shelton separately signed the Acknowledgment electronically on September 30, 2014, during the course of their ongoing employment. The Acknowledgement provided in full:

I have read and understand the policies set forth in the Employee Handbook. I agree to abide by the policies of the Company as reflected in this Handbook, in the Operations Manual, and in other published memoranda. I also understand that my employment is at will, and that either I or the Company may end my employment at any time and for any reason.
MANDATORY ARBITRATION OF CLAIMS: I agree that any claim related to my employment, including wage and compensation claims, and including claims related to the termination of my employment, shall be resolved through arbitration as the exclusive forum, and I hereby waive any right to pursue such claim in court or in a trial by jury, either as a plaintiff or a collective class member. Claims may be brought before the American Arbitration Association, the National Arbitration Forum, or JAMS/Endispute, at the election of the party bringing the claim. Any appropriate remedies available under statutory law may be awarded in arbitration, and the decision of the arbitrator shall be final and binding on all parties. I agree that there is no right to participate in a representative capacity, or as a member of any class or collective group, in any claim brought to arbitration, and that there is no right or authority for any claims to be arbitrated on a class action or collection action basis, nor may claims be joined or consolidated in the arbitration unless the individual and the Company jointly agree in writing.
All store and field employees must electronically acknowledge their agreement at the register.

         Neither Rainbow nor Thomas executed the Acknowledgment.

         Van Alst and Shelton responded to the motion to compel arbitration by arguing that the Acknowledgement was not a valid agreement to arbitrate because it lacked mutuality, and was not supported by adequate consideration.

         The circuit court granted the defendants' motion to compel arbitration on October 31, 2016. Van Alst and Shelton filed a petition for a writ of mandamus or prohibition in this Court on January 27, 2017, asking that we order the circuit court to rescind its order compelling arbitration, and to instead deny the motion. This Court ...


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