A New Jersey appellate court in Noren v. Heartland Payment Systems recently examined the enforceability of jury waivers in civil trials. In Noren, the plaintiff had signed an employment agreement with the following language:
irrevocably waive any right to trial by jury in any suit, action or proceeding under, in connection with or to enforce this Agreement
The plaintiff was subsequently terminated and sued his employer for among other things violation of New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”). The plaintiff requested a jury trial but was denied by the court. Fortunately for the plaintiff, the right to a jury trial is specifically provided for in CEPA. This in turn led the appellate court to determine that the waiver of this right “must be clearly and unmistakably established.”
On appeal, the appellate court found that the language in the waiver was not specific enough because it:
(1) failed to reference CEPA or other statutory claims; and
(2) did not define the scope of the claims being waived by the employee
As a result, the appellate court reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court.