The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the waivers, in which Alan and Kimberly Alonso promised not to sue Huron Valley Ambulance over workplace issues, were not valid because the couple never got enough information to “knowingly and intelligently” give up their right to go to court. The couple didn’t know exactly what they were signing nor were they clear on what the alternatives to litigation would be; in the Alonsos’ case, the waiver provided that disputes would go to an internal Grievance Review Board, the court said.
The appellate court held the Alonsos can move forward with claims they were discriminated against and were the victims of retaliation despite having signed the waiver documents.
“At the time the Alonsos signed waivers of their rights to a judicial forum, they had no idea what the Grievance Review Board process entailed. They were never informed of their right to revoke their waiver. They were not given any documentation regarding the process until almost a month after they began their employment,” the court wrote.
The Alonsos’ allege that Huron Valley Ambulance retaliated and discriminated against them for taking time off for health issues.
In February 2008, Alan Alonso was terminated for allegedly lying about his attendance at an Army National Guard training course and testing positive for drugs while at work. Meanwhile, Kimberly Alonso, who had requested time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) due to a pregnancy, was allegedly subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliated against for taking FMLA leave. A district court dismissed all claims.
The company has defended its actions, saying it believes its dealings with the Alonsos were legal.