Arbitration clauses in employment contracts are an increasingly powerful tool, forcing an alternative system of justice upon people when they believe they have been damaged by the negligence of others. Doctors, hospitals, drug treatment centers and other lawsuit-prone professions and businesses are increasingly forcing their patients and customers to sign documents restricting their right to sue them in a public court of law should a dispute arise, or an injury or a wrongful death occur. Instead, arbitration clauses contained in legally binding contracts signed by patients and customers are forcing them to settle their dispute by arbitration. The twist is that in addition to signing away their first amendment rights to a fair and speedy trial, these “arbitration hearings” sometimes resemble more of a tribunal of religious elders than a judge and jury of one’s piers. Arbitrators are relying on their interpretation of Bible Scriptures and not Federal or State Laws to determine a persons guilt or innocence. And time and time again it’s the religious organization that comes out the winner.
The family of a young man who died of an apparent drug overdose after being sentenced to attend Teen Challenge, a drug treatment program was thwarted in their attempt to collect damages from their son’s wrongful death. When the family tried to sue the Christian-based center, they were refused their day in court by a judge who upheld the binding arbitration contract that they signed prior to their son entering treatment.
A Florida man tried to sue the Church of Scientology accusing the organization of bilking him of thousands of dollars. A judge in the state upheld the binding arbitration agreement that he and all Scientologists sign prior to entering the religious group and forced him to take his case before a panel of Scientologists, instead of going to court.
When a new administrator was hired, 12-year principal and teacher Pamela Prescott was fired from Northlake Christian School in Covington without explanation she filed a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the school district and was awarded $157,000 in lost income and damages. As a result of losing the arbitration hearing, the Christian School filed a law suit in Federal Court to repeal the verdict. After four years of appealing court decisions the school district eventually gave up when the State’s Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
All three of these organizations, medical, religious, educational are sponsored by religious organization who have, in the case of a dispute, found a way around the traditional justice system and replaced it with a self-serving literal interpretation of the Bible. They illustrate how important it is to have a knowledgeable and experienced attorney review your employment agreement or any other contract that you are being asked to sign when you are about to enter into a relationship with a faith-based business.