LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeals today rendered a unanimous decision (#B240522) upholding a judgment by the Los Angeles Superior Court to deny a petition by the national law firm of Bingham McCutchen, LLP to require arbitration in a civil lawsuit filed by a former associate for employment discrimination and wrongful termination.
The lawsuit (case #BC474009), filed by Hartwell Harris against Bingham McCutchen on November 2, 2011, cited disability discrimination and retaliation as well as violations of two California employment protection acts. A former Litigation Associate in the Boston, MA-based law firm’s Santa Monica, CA office, her grievances related to her dismissal after she developed a rare sleeping disorder. Ms. Harris is represented by Tamara Freeze, Allison Lin and Robert Odell of the Irvine, CA-based Law Offices of Tamara Freeze.
In response to the lawsuit, Bingham McCutchen filed a petition to compel Ms. Harris to arbitrate her claims based on a letter agreement between plaintiff and Bingham dated April 25, 2007. Mr. Harris disputed the arbitration agreement because it was based on Massachusetts “choice of law” provision where the firm is based. The trial court denied the arbitration petition on the grounds the provision was not enforceable under Massachusetts law, because it did not state in clear and unmistakable terms its intent to arbitrate Ms. Harris’ statutory employment discrimination claims. The Court of Appeal agreed.
Commenting on today’s ruling, Tamara Freeze, Ms. Harris’ attorney remarked: “This is a significant decision because it shows that even a big and experienced law firm, like Bingham McCutchen, is not immune from drafting errors in its own arbitration contract. The California Court of Appeal made it clear the Bingham McCutchen, one of the largest law firms in the country, ‘cannot have it both ways’ and demand that the arbitration contract that they drafted for their associates be interpreted only for their benefit, while denying its associate-employees of the same choice-of-law provision providing state statutory rights against employment discrimination.”
According to Ms. Freeze, in April 2010, after working at the firm for three years, Ms. Harris was afflicted by Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome (DSPS), a chronic circadian rhythm sleep disorder which disrupts the timing of sleep, peak periods of alertness, the core body temperature, hormonal and other daily rhythms.