Posted December 7th, 2018.
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December 7, 2018, Chattanooga, TN – Attorneys from Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP filed two briefs today pushing back against global automaker Volkswagen’s attempts to compel class claims of age discrimination out of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee and into individual private arbitration.
Volkswagen was accused of systemic age discrimination earlier this year when 53 year-old Plaintiff, Jonathan Manlove, filed a complaint on behalf of himself and other workers age 50 and older in the United States, including those in the Chattanooga, Tennessee manufacturing plant. Manlove’s complaint alleges public announcements by Volkswagen that it intended to make its workforce “younger” and “slimmer” as part of a re-branding effort in the wake of its diesel-emissions scandal demonstrate the company’s policy of age discrimination. Manlove also includes allegations about his own individual treatment, including a forced demotion and transfer shortly following the company’s announcement.
Volkswagen recently challenged Plaintiff’s ability to bring his case in court, citing to the existence of an arbitration agreement. Attorneys for Manlove concede the existence of an arbitration agreement, but point to language throughout the agreement that specifically allow claims for injunctive relief, which is the only type of relief that Manlove seeks in his complaint, to proceed in court. The papers filed today dismiss Volkswagen’s arguments as “little more than an invocation of the ‘policy favoring arbitration’ and hand wringing over an alleged attempt to ‘undermine the very purpose of arbitration.’”
“The expansion of a policy favoring forced arbitration over the last couple of decades has wreaked havoc on employees’ rights,” said Kevin Sharp, Managing Partner of Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Nashville office. “Volkswagen is now trying to use this policy as a way to rewrite the terms of its own agreement. That pushes the bounds too far.”
Attorney Leigh Anne St. Charles also commented on the unusual position Volkswagen took in its motion to dismiss. “Volkswagen drafted an arbitration agreement, forced it on workers as a condition of employment, and now is trying to argue that the terms it drafted and mandated shouldn’t apply,” said St. Charles. “This argument essentially asks courts to ignore the written terms of parties’ contracts and simply ignore basic contract law whenever the word ‘arbitration’ is mentioned.”
German parent company, Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft, filed a separate motion adopting this position on arbitration and making the additional argument that a court in Tennessee has no jurisdiction over it as a foreign corporation. Attorneys for Manlove challenged this position, and pointed to several allegations that the parent company controls and directs the behavior of its U.S. subsidiaries. “German executives cannot insulate themselves from the law by claiming that their decisions were made in another country. At the end of the day, if you make a discriminatory policy that violates American law and then direct it to be applied against American workers, you must stand up in an American court and face those allegations,” explained Sharp.
Today’s response to Volkswagen’s motions asks the Court to deny both motions in their entirety, or in the alternative, to grant limited jurisdictional discovery before issuing a ruling.
About Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP
Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP is a public interest class-action litigation law firm with offices in New York; Washington, D.C; San Francisco; Nashville; San Diego; and Baltimore. Our attorneys have graduated from the nation’s top law schools, clerked for judges throughout the United States, and amassed extensive experience litigating and trying cases that have earned over one billion dollars for our clients.
The Firm specializes in civil rights and general public interest cases, representing plaintiffs with claims of employment discrimination, sexual violence, labor and wage violations, predatory lending, consumer fraud, and whistleblowing, among other claims. Along with a focus on class actions, the Firm also represents individuals and has achieved extraordinary success in the representation of executives and attorneys in employment disputes.
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