For anyone who doubts the continued erosion of an individual's 7th Amendment right to a jury trial, look no further than the recent Texas Supreme Court decision In re Frank Kent Motor Company (oral argument available here). In that case, Steven Valdez, an at-will employee who had worked for his employer for 28 years, was told by his supervisor that he needed to sign a Jury Trial Waiver pursuant to a new employment policy. The supervisor went on to inform Mr. Valdez that failure to sign the waiver would result in Mr. Valdez losing his job. Approximately one year after signing the waiver, Mr. Valdez was terminated.
Mr. Valdez subsequently brought suit against his employer for wrongful termination based on age discrimination. Mr. Valdez also requested that his case be heard by a jury. Mr. Valdez argued that his earlier waiver of his right to a jury trial was invalid because it "was not signed under circumstances which were 'knowing, voluntary and intelligent.'"
The trial court denied the employer's motion to strike Mr. Valdez's jury demand. The appellate court subsequently denied mandamus relief to the employer. However, the Texas Supreme Court, hearing this case on mandamus, sided with the employer finding the waiver valid. According to the Texas Supreme Court
because an employer has the legal right to terminate an at will employee, a threat to exercise that right cannot amount to coercion that would invalidate a jury waiver agreement.
h/tip The Vethan Law Firm