LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Los Angeles based law firm Blair & Ramirez LLP invalidates Cigna Health Insurance’s nationwide arbitration agreement.
On April 17, 2017, Oscar Ramirez, trial attorney and partner at Blair & Ramirez LLP, argued plaintiff Maria Macias’ opposition to Cigna’s motion to compel arbitration of Ms. Macias’ employment claims before the Hon. Michael W. Fitzgerald in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Attorneys for plaintiff Maria Macias filed a lawsuit against Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company and Danielle Stark for failure to accommodate Ms. Macias’ physical disability and for discrimination based on her disability. Ms. Macias was born with fingers that did not have any physical feeling. Her fingers had to be amputated when she was one year old. As a result, Ms. Macias’ fine motor skills and ability to operate certain items was limited and she had requested that Cigna provide her with an updated Blackberry device. Cigna denied her request and subsequently terminated her employment.
Defendant Cigna attempted to avoid the California Court’s jurisdiction and take away Ms. Macias’ Constitutional right to a jury trial by invoking its nationwide arbitration agreement that was found by the Court to be substantively and procedurally unconscionable. Among other things, Cigna’s arbitration agreement: prevents an aggrieved employee from taking the deposition of a Cigna employee who certifies that they have no personal knowledge of the dispute, provides the arbitrator with no ability to determine the credibility of the employee’s certifications, forbade employees from filing charges of discrimination with any governmental agency to eliminate any public record of a possible pattern of discrimination, and effectively prevented access to its complex 14 pages of rules and procedures of arbitration from both prospective employees and terminated employees.
The Court’s April 18, 2017 ruling stated in part: “The failure to attach Cigna’s specific, restrictive rules of arbitration to the arbitration agreement rendered the agreement procedurally unconscionable. The provisions in the arbitration agreement greatly restricting discovery and further providing Cigna with a means to exempt certain employees from sitting for any deposition is substantively unconscionable. Considered as a whole, the arbitration agreement is unenforceable.”
The Court’s complete Order invalidating the arbitration agreement is available here.
Ms. Macia’s attorney, Oscar Ramirez, said that national employers need to be held accountable for ensuring that their employees are entitled to a fair dispute resolution process of their work place grievances. One basic step is to ensure that employees be allowed to file claims of discrimination with governmental agencies such as the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“The agreement was riddled with defects that modern courts of appeal have identified as unenforceable,” Mr. Ramirez said. “Cigna sought to strip its employees of the ability to satisfy the administrative pre-requisite of filing a charge of discrimination with a governmental agency such as the DFEH. Failure to exhaust the administrative remedy would cause the unsuspecting employee to have their entire case dismissed in arbitration.”
“Cigna’s arbitration agreement was intentionally designed to defeat claims of discrimination before an aggrieved employee even starts the arbitration process,” continued Mr. Ramirez.
The Court’s ruling affects thousands of past and present Cigna employees in California. In 2017, Cigna reported employing 40,000 employees worldwide. Cigna reported 2016 revenue of $39.67 billion and gross profit of $15.18 billion.