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Hergenreder v. Bickford Senior Living Group, LLC

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
656 F.3d 411 (6th Cir. 2011)


Facts

Bickford Senior Living Group, LLC (Bickford) (defendant) hired Hergenreder (plaintiff). At the time, Hergenreder signed various documents including tax and insurance forms, a background-check consent form, and a form acknowledging receipt of a worker’s compensation document. None of the documents Hergenreder signed mentioned arbitration. Hergenreder signed a separate form indicating she had received, read, and understood Bickford’s employee handbook (Handbook). The Handbook, by its express terms, did not constitute a contract between Hergenreder and Bickford. Instead, the Handbook provided summaries of numerous topics related to Bickford’s employment policies and procedures. One section of the Handbook contained a clause labeled “Dispute Resolution Process” followed by a single sentence directing employees to refer to a separate dispute resolution procedure document (DRP). The DRP, in turn, had a clause requiring employees to submit claims against Bickford to arbitration “as a condition of employment" with Bickford. Elsewhere, the DRP explicit provided that an employee’s employment by, or continuing employment with Bickford, was sufficient to bind employees to the mandatory arbitration clause. Nevertheless, Bickford asked employees to sign a written acknowledgement form agreeing to the arbitration clause. When Hergenreder sued Bickford over an employment dispute, the parties disagreed about whether Hergenreder assented to and was legally bound by the DRP’s mandatory arbitration clause. Hergenreder claimed she never saw or signed anything related to the DRP. Bickford did not produce hard evidence to the contrary (e.g., a document bearing Hergenreder’s signature), but offered a Bickford executive’s testimony that the DRP was always distributed to employees. A district court concluded Hergenreder was bound by the terms of the DRP and required to submit her claims against Bickford to arbitration. The district court dismissed the lawsuit, and Hergenreder appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Moore, J.)

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