Lichon v. Morse (Opinion - Leave Granted)Annotate this Case
Two former employees of Michael Morse and his firm, Michael J. Morse, PC, sued Morse for workplace sexual harassment, including sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligence, gross negligence, and wanton and willful misconduct; and civil conspiracy. In both cases, the firm moved to dismiss and compel arbitration on the basis that both women signed the firm’s Mandatory Dispute Resolution Procedure agreement (MDRPA) prior to accepting employment with the firm. The trial court granted defendants' motion in each case, concluding that the arbitration agreement was valid and enforceable and that the claims were related to the employees' employment and therefore subject to arbitration. A majority of the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiffs’ claims of sexual assault were not subject to arbitration because sexual assault was not “related to” plaintiffs’ employment. Further, the Court of Appeals stated that the fact that the alleged assaults would not have occurred but for plaintiffs’ employment with the firm did not provide a sufficient nexus between the terms of the arbitration agreement and the alleged sexual assaults. "Defendants noted certain facts that supported connections between plaintiffs’ claims and their employment, including that the alleged assaults occurred at work or work-related functions. But those facts did not necessarily make plaintiffs’ claims relative to employment; rather, the facts had to be evaluated under a standard that distinguished claims relative to employment from claims not relative to employment. This analysis prevents the absurdity of an arbitration clause that bars the parties from litigating any matter, regardless of how unrelated to the substance of the agreement, and it ensures that the mere existence of a contract does not mean that every dispute between the parties is arbitrable. Neither the circuit courts nor the Court of Appeals considered this standard when evaluating defendants’ motions to compel arbitration." Rather than apply this newly adopted approach in the first instance, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the Court of Appeals and remanded the cases to the circuit courts so that those courts could analyze defendants’ motions to compel arbitration by determining which of plaintiffs’ claims could be maintained without reference to the contract or employment relationship.