Thursday, October 4, 2018
Court of Appeal:
Language Barrier Did Not Preclude ‘Meeting of the Minds’
Opinion Says Trial Judge Erred in Finding Arbitration Agreement Unenforceable Because It Was in English and Employee Who Signed It Spoke Only Spanish
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A judge erred in declining to enforce an arbitration agreement on the ground that it was in English and the plaintiff did not know what she was signing because she speaks only Spanish, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held yesterday.
The opinion by Justice Richard M. Aronson of Div. Three, which was not certified for publication, reverses an order by Orange Superior Court Judge Sheila Fell who said, in denying a defendant’s motion to compel arbitration of a former employee’s causes of action against it:
“Plaintiff’s declaration establishes that there was no meeting of the minds as she could not read what she was signing and was unaware of what it was; Deny.”
Although the defendant, Anaheim Point Healthcare & Wellness Centre, L.P., contested the truthfulness of plaintiff Maria Martinez’s assertion that she speaks only Spanish, Aronson said an appeals court defers to trial judges’ determinations as to credibility. Assuming Martinez’s statement to be true, he said, it was unavailing.
Aronson also declared that Anaheim Point was not obliged, contrary to Martinez’s insistence, to provide her with copies, in Spanish, of the three agreements to arbitrate any disputes with over her employment at the time she signed them.
Signature Indicates Assent
Addressing her purported illiteracy in English, he wrote:
“Here, Martinez’s outward manifestations—the signing of the arbitration clause—demonstrated mutual assent and an intent to enter into an agreement. Her signature on three separate documents agreeing to arbitration supports the conclusion she assented to the agreement. Absent any mitigating details, Martinez’s signature was a clear, objective demonstration of her assent to the agreements.
“Absent fraud or overreaching, Martinez’s inability to read and speak English does not alter the conclusion her signature on the contract manifested her agreement to its terms. Generally, a party may not avoid enforcement of an arbitration provision because the party has limited proficiency in the English language.”
Aronson said there is an exception to the rule that a party is bound by the terms of a contract he or she signed when the signature was obtained though fraud.
“The exception does not apply here because Martinez does not contend Anaheim Point defrauded her or prevented her from learning the contract’s terms,” he wrote.
There was no evidence, the jurist said, that Martinez made any request of her employer for an explanation of what she was signing or in any way deceived her.
There are instances, he observed, where a contract which an employer presents to an employee for signature a contract in English, knowing the employee speaks only some other language, can be viewed as unconscionable. Fell did not reach that issue, he said, necessitating a remand so that she may consider it.
Copy in Spanish
Rejecting the contention that Martinez was entitled to a copy of the arbitration agreements, in Spanish, Aronson said:
“Martinez’s arguments regarding Civil Code section 1632 and Labor Code section 2810.5, subdivision (a)(1), misunderstand the law and are not applicable here. As Martinez quotes, Civil Code section 1632, subdivision (b), states that the ‘person engaged in a trade or business who negotiates primarily’ in a particular language must deliver to the other involved party a translation in that language. Even more clearly, Labor Code section 2810.5, subdivision (a)(1), states that ‘an employer shall provide to each employee a written notice, in the language the employer normally uses to communicate employment-related information....’ (Italics added.) These passages are referring to the language that the employer, not the employee, normally utilizes, and there is no evidence presented that Anaheim Point usually spoke Spanish in the course of its business.”
The case is Martinez v. Anaheim Point Healthcare & Wellness Centre, L.P., G054789.
Jose-Manuel A. de Castro and Lori V. Minassian of De Castro Law Group in West Hollywood represented Anaheim Point and Dimuth C. Amaratunge and Maya L. Serkova of Serendib Law Firm, located in the City of Orange, acted for Martinez.
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