Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Dotson v. Amgen, Inc. (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 3, 2010)

I'm glad the Court of Appeal (eventually) elected to publish this one. Because it's right, and if trial courts are holding otherwise -- as one did below here -- I think they need to be told they're doing it wrong.

I'm all for finding arbitration provisions to be unconscionable in appropriate cases. But the key words are "appropriate." In the present case, we've got Amgen convincing attorney Darrell Dotson to leave Howrey & Simon in return for $170,000/year plus a $35,000 signing bonus, stock options, an executive incentive plan, etc. That's hardly an unsophisticated person, and he's hardly someone who doesn't know what he's signing.

Sure, the (very short) contract has an arbitration provision, and further says that the presumptive rule in these arbitrations will be one deposition as well as depositions of any experts. But that's fine, and consistent with making these things streamlined. Plus, the arbitrator can allow more. Presumably s/he'll do so if the need at all arises.

So you've got virtually minimal (if any) procedural unconscionability and minimal substantive unconscionability. Hardly a reason to invalidate the agreement. Even less so a reason to hold -- as the trial court did here -- that the discovery provisions are unseverable and hence the whole arbitration agreement falls.

So I agree with Justice Perren. And am glad we reverse, and publish the reversal of, the trial court. Dotson still gets to sue, and to argue that he shouldn't have been fired. But he gets to do so before an arbitrator.