Law School Case Brief
Morales v. Sun Constructors, Inc. - 541 F.3d 218 (3d Cir. 2008)
In the absence of fraud, the fact that an offeree cannot read, write, speak, or understand the English language is immaterial to whether an English-language agreement the offeree executes is enforceable.
Plaintiff Juan Morales was employed by defendant Sun Constructors, Inc. ("Sun") as a welder. The employment relationship between Morales and Sun was governed by a signed employment agreement that contained an arbitration clause. Morales only spoke Spanish. After his employment was terminated by Sun, Morales filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Sun in the United States District Court of the Virgin Islands. Sun filed a motion to stay the proceedings pending arbitration. The district court denied the motion, finding that Morales signed the Agreement without realizing it contained an arbitration clause. The agreement was written in English, a language Morales did not understand and a bilingual applicant who knew Morales was asked to help him complete the documents. The district court concluded that the arbitration clause was unenforceable because Morales did not assent to the clause. Sun appealed, arguing that Morales was bound by the entire Agreement, even if he was ignorant of its terms.
Could an arbitration clause in an employment agreement be enforced where the employee was ignorant of the language in which the agreement was written?
The appellate court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded the case to that court for it to enter a stay pending arbitration. The court noted that the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C.S. §§ 1-16, provided that arbitration agreements were enforceable to the same extent as other contracts. In the absence of fraud, the fact that an offeree could not read, write, speak, or understand the English language was immaterial to whether an English-language agreement the offeree executed was enforceable. Here, Morales was not alleging fraud or misrepresentation. It was his obligation to ensure that he understood the agreement before signing. He did not ask the bilingual applicant to translate the document word-for-word or ask to take the agreement home and have it translated, although he had paid someone in the past to translate documents for him. Moreover, in the almost one year that Morales worked for Sun, he never questioned the terms of the agreement. Thus, he was bound by the arbitration clause therein.
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