On Monday, February 3rd, Alan H. Schorr argued an important case before the New Jersey Supreme Court on behalf of a client accusing her employer of religious discrimination. This represents the third time that Mr. Schorr will have presented oral arguments to the state Supreme Court in the last several months. This most recent case is Amy Skuse v. Pfizer, Inc., and it represents important legal issues regarding the ways in which New Jersey state employers attempt to evoke acknowledgement of and agreement to binding arbitration processes.
Ms. Skuse is a former flight attendant for the company Pfizer, Inc. Her case dates back to April of 2017, when she was asked to meet with two company representatives who gave her an “ultimatum” to receive a yellow fever vaccination. Pfizer has a company policy requiring its flight attendants to receive the vaccine, but Ms. Kruse is a practicing Buddhist who maintains that as part of her religious beliefs she “never has as an adult received any injections that contain any kind of animal protein.” Ms. Kruse had worked for the company since 2012 and had never been pressured to get the vaccination prior to the April 2017 meeting. In response to the meeting, she declined and informed the company of her “yellow card” waiver authorizing her to travel to any country without the vaccination. She also provided the company with a letter from her physician, documenting her opting out of the vaccination for “philosophical reasons that are similar to a religious belief.”
Despite Ms. Skuse having informed the company of her religious objections, they continued to exert pressure on her, causing her to suffer a breakdown and requiring that she take a leave from work under the Family Medical Leave Act. When she attempted to return to work two months later with medical clearance, the company refused to allow her to return and placed her on an indefinite paid leave. At that point she filed a formal request for an accommodation of her refusal to be vaccinated based on her “strong religious conviction” and met with a company representative to discuss the case. The internal company appeal was denied and she was subsequently terminated in August of 2017.
In response, Ms. Skuse filed a lawsuit three months later, but the company filed a motion to dismiss the case based on their assertion that she had agreed to binding arbitration after having participated in a company “training module” about their mandatory binding arbitration policy. Pfizer claimed that by acknowledging her participation in that module and continuing to work for the company, she had agreed to its terms. The case being argued on Monday revolves around the issue of whether an employer that asks its employees to acknowledge their policy can interpret acknowledgement as them agreeing to a legally binding contractual agreement.
When Ms. Skuse first filed suit against Pfizer over her termination, a lower court agreed with Pfizer’s position and granted their motion to dismiss, but Mr. Schorr successfully represented her in an appeal to the New Jersey Appellate Division that ended in the court reversing the lower court’s order. In that decision, the court wrote that Pfizer’s training module and acknowledgement that it had been read “does not yield the valid personal agreement of an employee to give up his or her statutorily protected rights to litigate claims against an employer in a public forum and seek a trial by jury. The procedure falls short of the requirements of New Jersey contract law.”
Pfizer appealed the case to the state Supreme Court, and today’s oral arguments represent an important legal battle on behalf of employees who want to maintain their ability to take legal action against workplace discrimination under the New Jersey LAD. Mr. Schorr has a well-earned reputation for fighting for employees’ rights.