Court of Appeal:
Arbitration Agreement Was Not ‘Impliedly Ratified’
Panel Rejects Contention by Del Taco That Woman, by Continuing to Work for It for Four Months After She Turned 18, Could No Longer Disaffirm Arbitration Agreement She Signed at Age of 16
By Sandra Hong Staff Writer
A Del Taco employee who continued working at the restaurant for four months after turning 18 did not give up her right to void an arbitration agreement which she signed when she was a minor, Div. Two of the Fourth District Court of Appeal had held.
The opinion by Justice Douglas P. Miller affirms an order by San Bernardino Superior Court Judge John M. Pacheco denying Del Taco’s motion to compel arbitration in a sexual harassment suit. Acting Presiding Justice Art W. McKinster and Justice Richard T. Fields joined in the opinion, filed Friday.
Pacheco found that former employee Sarah Coughenour disaffirmed the arbitration agreement within a reasonable time, in conformance with Family Code §6710, which provides:
“Except as otherwise provided by statute, a contract of a minor may be disaffirmed by the minor before majority or within a reasonable time afterwards or, in case of the minor’s death within that period, by the minor’s heirs or personal representative.”
Coughenour, who had worked at a Del Taco in Rancho Cucamonga since 2016, filed the complaint four months after she quit in August 2018. She alleges she was sexually harassed and assaulted by the restaurant manager and denied meal and rest breaks.
In its appeal of Pacheco’s order, Del Taco argued Coughenour impliedly ratified the arbitration agreement by continuing to work after turning 18, which estopped her from disaffirming the agreement to arbitrate she signed when she was hired at 16.
“Coughenour’s continued employment does not constitute a ratification of the Agreement and an acknowledgment that she was giving up her right to disaffirmance,” Miller wrote, adding:
“To hold that Coughenour impliedly ratified the Agreement by continuing to work at Del Taco for four months after she turned the age of 18 would go against the policy ‘of the law to protect a minor against himself and his indiscretions and immaturity,’ ” citing this district’s 2007 opinion in Berg v. Traylor.
Del Taco argued that an eight month-lapse between turning 18 and filing a lawsuit did not meet the “reasonable time” requirement under Family Code §6710. Miller said:
“Del Taco has provided no California statute or case defining the term ‘reasonable time’ or any case that establishes as a matter of law that eight months was not a reasonable time.”
Without clear guidance from the statute, “reasonable time” must be determined based on the circumstances, Miller said.
“Here, Coughenour worked for almost two years for Del Taco until she reached the age of 18. After she reached majority age, she quit her position after four months and filed her lawsuit within four months of quitting,” he wrote, declaring:
“The filing of the lawsuit was notice that she disaffirmed the Agreement. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that Coughenour disaffirmed the Agreement within a reasonable time.”
The case is Coughenour v. Del Taco, 2020 S.O.S. 5591.
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