CA Court of Appeal Affirms Order, Declines to Compel Arbitration in Coffey v. BevMo

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The California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration in Coffey v. Beverages & More, Inc. (“BevMo!”), a wage-and-hour class action on behalf of non-exempt, hourly employees. Case No. B243361 (2nd Dist. Div. 1 April 30, 2014) (unpublished) (slip op. available here). The panel found that substantial evidence supported the lower court’s determination that BevMo! had failed to prove that the plaintiff entered into an arbitration agreement with the employer based on her electronic signature acknowledging acceptance of the employee handbook (Ms. Coffey is represented by Capstone Law APC).

The suit was filed on January 18, 2012. In June 2012, BevMo! moved to compel arbitration, arguing that the electronic (PDF) version of the employee handbook—identical to those previously provided to employees in paper format—contained an arbitration clause and that by clicking a box next to an icon of the handbook, she had agreed to an arbitration provision located within the handbook. The trial court denied that motion, finding that, under the express terms of BevMo!’s documents, separate signatures were required for the handbook and for the arbitration agreement, and because the plaintiff was only able to provide an e-signature in one location, that lone signature was not consent to the arbitration clause.

The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that because the arbitration agreement required a separate signature and because Ms. Coffey never signed that arbitration agreement, unlike other documents within the employment packet that she was able to e-sign individually, she could not be bound by the arbitration agreement. The Court of Appeal also found that the handbook contained an express disclaimer that it did not create any contractual rights or obligations, making it ambiguous as to whether the handbook could even create an enforceable agreement to arbitrate if it had been signed. Finally, there was no implicit agreement to arbitrate, as BevMo! argued, due to the plaintiff’s acceptance of employment with BevMo!; “[n]othing in the record indicates that [Plaintiff] was informed or believed that [BevMo’s!] offer of employment was conditioned on her agreement to arbitrate.” Slip op. at 6.

BevMo! was ultimately unable to show that the plaintiff had ever agreed to arbitrate her claims. The Court of Appeal thus affirmed the trial court’s order and declined to compel arbitration.