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South Florida sexual harassment case could face arbitration snag

In November, we wrote about disturbing allegations of inappropriate conduct by members of the kitchen staff at a restaurant in Boca Raton; a restaurant which is among the more prestigious in all of South Florida.

The whistleblower in this case was a former chef who said he faced sexual harassment by other male employees, including inappropriate touching. Additionally, he says he witnessed other kitchen staff members putting food in their pants and on their genitals, then later serving that food to unsuspecting customers.

Unfortunately, the alleged victim in the case may soon be silenced by a provision in his employment contract: an arbitration agreement.

When you sign an arbitration agreement, you essentially consent to having any complaints heard and settled privately by a single arbitrator. This usually means you cannot file a lawsuit or speak publicly about the complaint.

We have previously written about how a large number of employment and service contracts now include an arbitration clause in the fine print, which most people do not realize they are agreeing to when they sign.

In this case, the restaurant says that the man agreed to arbitration when he signed his employment contract. However, the former employee contends that he had no knowledge of the agreement, and also that his signature on the paperwork in not valid.

The case will now head to court to determine if the man will be forced into arbitration. If so, it could dramatically affect the outcome as well as public knowledge of it. The man's attorney said: If arbitration is granted, this will be the last time any member of the public will hear about [the] case."

He also warned others that they might be subject to arbitration and not even know it. He added: "The problem is people don't find it until it's too late and they have a problem."

It is important to know what you are signing when you are about to start a new job. Unfortunately, the fine print may be asking you to sign away important rights as an employee.

Source: NBC Miami, "Arbitration Agreement Key to Morton's Sexual Harassment Case," Willard Shepard, Mar. 6, 2012

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