According to the Dallas Court of Appeals, the short answer is that absent fraud or trickery, an employee’s inability to read or comprehend English is not a defense to a motion to compel arbitration where the employee executed an English version of an acknowledgment which referenced the arbitration agreement.  MiCocina, Ltd D/B/A Taco Diner v. Jose Balderas-Villanueva, No. 05-16-01507-CV (Oct. 27, 2017).
In this case, the employee, who did not read or speak English, signed a one-page document titled, “Acknowledgment of Receipt of Employee Handbook,” written in English, which memorialized receipt of the Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate, a summary description of the work-related injury plan, a department of insurance non-subscriber form, and a company handbook.  Neither the employer nor the employee signed the Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate referenced in the Acknowledgment. Thereafter, the employee was injured at work when an oven exploded, and sued the employer for damages.
The trial court denied the employer’s motion to compel arbitration, finding that no contract formation existed and that the employee was misled into signing the document, but the Fifth Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with instructions to grant the motion. 

Key to the appellate court’s ruling were the following points:

  • An employer may enforce an arbitration agreement with an at-will employee if the employee received notice of the employer’s arbitration policy and accepted it.
  • An at-will employee who receives notice of an employer’s arbitration policy and continues working with knowledge of the policy accepts the terms as a matter of law.
  • It was undisputed that the employee’s claims fell within the scope of the Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate.
  • The  Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate did not need to be signed by both parties because it was incorporated by reference in the paper signed by the person sought to be charged.
  • The signed Acknowledgment that specifically identified the Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate was evidence of notice.
  • Absent fraud, misrepresentation, or deceit, a party is bound by the terms of the contract he signed, regardless of whether he read it or thought it had different terms.
  • Illiteracy will not relieve a party of the consequences of his contract.
  • If a person is unable to read a contract, it is his duty to find some reliable person to read and explain it to him before he signs it.
  • The fact that a person may not be fluent in English does not of itself create the type of confidential relationship that would relieve the person from his duty to read a contract.
  • A party does not have a general duty to explain, discuss, or translate an arbitration agreement merely because the subject matter concerns arbitration.
Here, despite conflicting testimony regarding whether the employee was provided with copies of various documents translated into Spanish, and despite the fact that the employer told the employee to sign the Acknowledgment because it was related to restaurant policies, the appellate court concluded that the employee failed to provide evidence of a fraudulent misrepresentation or trickery.