Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division
from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Honorable Joseph
L. Walsh, III Filed: April 2, 2019
LAWRENCE E. MOONEY, JUDGE
action brought by Scott Caldwell alleging employment
discrimination by his former employer and supervisor, the
defendants appeal from the circuit court's order denying
their motion to compel arbitration. Defendants contended that
Mr. Caldwell had signed a valid and enforceable arbitration
agreement that required them to arbitrate Mr. Caldwell's
claims. And most critically, defendants argued that the
arbitration agreement delegated all threshold issues,
including formation and enforcement issues, to the arbitrator
for determination. Mr. Caldwell argued that the agreement and
delegation provision lacked consideration. The circuit court
agreed with Mr. Caldwell and denied defendants' motion.
In light of the recent decision of the Supreme Court of
Missouri in Soars v. Easter Seals Midwest, 563
S.W.3d 111 (Mo. banc 2018), we must reverse and remand.
& Procedural Background
Caldwell filed a petition against the defendants with the
following allegations. Mr. Caldwell began working for
UniFirst as a District Service Manager in May of 2012. His
job duties included supervising and managing route drivers,
scheduling, customer service, territory and route sales, and
other general managerial responsibilities.
January of 2014, Mr. Caldwell's lower back began to cause
him great discomfort and pain. His physician diagnosed him as
having a lumbar disc protrusion, a lumbar disc herniation
that impinged on nerve roots, and severe intractable back and
leg pain. Mr. Caldwell's physician recommended
restrictions on lifting and repetitive bending. At first,
UniFirst accommodated these restrictions. Mr. Caldwell
satisfactorily performed his job duties with the limited
accommodations in place.
work environment changed at the end of 2014. In mid-December,
with Mr. Caldwell still experiencing severe pain, Mr.
Caldwell's physician ordered Mr. Caldwell to take eleven
days off work, and then to return to light duty. Over the
next several months, the physician ordered further
limitations on weight-lifting, bending, stooping, squatting,
climbing, twisting, and kneeling. He also advised against
long periods of sitting, and recommended frequent rest breaks
from standing, sitting, or walking.
Seever, Mr. Caldwell's supervisor, protested, calling Mr.
Caldwell's need for time off "unacceptable."
Further, he disregarded Mr. Caldwell's repeated requests
for accommodation. Instead, he repeatedly assigned Mr.
Caldwell, a district service manager, to the more physically
strenuous tasks of a route sales representative. In March,
Mr. Seever outright denied Mr. Caldwell's accommodation
requests and unilaterally placed Mr. Caldwell on extended
non-paid medical leave, telling Mr. Caldwell he had done so
because Mr. Caldwell had filed a workers' compensation
Caldwell underwent surgery at the end of May 2015. His
physician informed UniFirst that Mr. Caldwell could return to
work at the end of June with restrictions, and that he could
return to full duty without restrictions at the beginning of
August. UniFirst, however, did not allow Mr. Caldwell to
return to work. Instead, the company denied Mr.
Caldwell's requests for accommodation and unilaterally
extended his non-paid medical leave to the end of July.
UniFirst fired Mr. Caldwell by letter dated July 27, 2015.
Caldwell sued UniFirst and Mr. Seever for employment
discrimination, in violation of the Missouri Human Rights
Acts. He alleged that UniFirst and Mr. Seever refused to
accommodate his disability, that they discharged him because
of his disability, and that they retaliated against him
because he complained of discrimination and requested
accommodations for his disability. Mr. Caldwell also alleged
that UniFirst discriminated against him and wrongfully
discharged him because he had filed a workers'
and Mr. Seever moved to compel arbitration of Mr.
Caldwell's claims. They asserted that the parties had
entered into a mutually-binding and enforceable arbitration
agreement that required them to arbitrate, not litigate,
disputes arising out of Mr. Caldwell's employment with
UniFirst. Defendants further argued that the arbitration
agreement delegated all formation and enforcement issues,
including all threshold issues, to the arbitrator for
Mr. Caldwell began working for UniFirst, he signed an
Employment Agreement and Restrictive Covenant. That agreement
provided that Mr. Caldwell was hired for a two-week period
that automatically renewed every two weeks, unless terminated
by either party, for any reason, upon two weeks' notice.
The short-duration employment agreement also contained a
non-compete clause, a number of restrictive covenants
regarding the protection of UniFirst's trade secrets and
confidential information, and the following arbitration
9. Arbitration of Disputes
Any controversy or claim arising out of or
relating to this Agreement or the breach thereof or otherwise
arising out of the EMPLOYEE'S employment or
termination of that employment (including, without
limitation, any claims of unlawful employment discrimination
whether based on age or otherwise) shall, to the
fullest extent permitted by law, be settled by
arbitration in any forum and form agreed upon by the
parties or, in the absence of such an agreement, under
the auspices of the American Arbitration Association
("AAA") in the city of the AAA office nearest the
location of the EMPLOYEE'S most recent employment with
the COMPANY, in accordance with the Employment Dispute
Resolution Rules of the AAA, including, but not limited
to, the rules and procedures applicable to the payment and
selection of arbitrators. Judgment upon the award rendered by
the arbitrator may be entered in any court having
jurisdiction thereof. This Section 9 shall be specifically
enforceable. Notwithstanding the foregoing, this Section 9
shall not preclude either party from pursuing a court action
for the sole purpose of obtaining a temporary ...