At least two federal courts have upheld the enforceability of a dispute resolution clause in a Christian school contract requiring employees to resolve their differences “through Christian mediation, and if necessary, arbitration” rather than in court. One case, Easterly v. Heritage Christian Schools, Inc., 2009 WL 2750099 (S.D. Indiana Aug. 26, 2009), was decided several years ago; last summer, an Ohio court followed suit, in Maynard v. Christian Valley Academy, Case No. 5:16-CV-01889 (N.D. Ohio, August 20, 2017).

Jeannette Maynard was an employee of Christian Valley Academy (CVA) in Aurora, Ohio, for eleven years. The contract she signed with CVA included the standard Christian Conciliation contract clause long promoted by the Institute for Christian Conciliation (formerly a division of Peacemaker Ministries), which calls for mediation and, if necessary, arbitration, in accordance with biblical principles. The terms of the agreement read, in relevant part:

I agree to attempt to resolve differences with others (parents, fellow-workers, administration and any other person affiliated with [the school]) by following the biblical pattern of Matthew 18:15-17. . . Should unresolved issues remain even after following the above process . . . [disputes] shall be solved and settled by Christian mediation and, if necessary, legal binding arbitration in accordance with the rules of procedure for Christian Conciliation . . .

After Ms. Maynard’s employment was terminated, she attempted to sue CVA for lost wages. The School asked the court to enforce the ADR clause. For some reason, Ms. Maynard did not want to resolve her dispute through Christian conciliation, so she presented to the court several reasons why the Christian ADR clause was unenforceable. The Court found none of her arguments persuasive.

Ms. Maynard argued that the Christian conciliation process would deny her rights to which she would otherwise be entitled under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Ohio court noted that an Indiana court faced the same argument in a similar case, Easterly v. Heritage Christian Schools, Inc., 2009 WL 2750099 (S.D. Indiana Aug. 26, 2009), and rejected it. Rule 4 of the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation requires conciliators to “take into consideration any state, federal, or local laws that the parties bring to their attention,” but emphasized that “the Holy Scripture (the Bible) shall be the supreme authority governing every aspect of the conciliation process.” The court concluded that, while Christian conciliators are required to take into account biblical law, the plaintiff failed to explain how biblical law conflicted with the FLSA.

Ms. Maynard also argued that the contract clause was unconscionable, because she didn’t see or understand the Christian conciliation clause when she signed it. The court noted that the whole contract was a mere two pages: “If Maynard did not understand the terms after reading the agreement, the onus was on her, not VCA, to ensure that she did.”

To Maynard’s contention that the School had waived its right to assert the conciliation clause, by terminating her employment without first mediating their differences, the Court stated that it was actually Maynard who violated the clause, by suing the School instead of attempting to mediate.

As one who has for decades recommended the use of a Christian conciliation dispute resolution clause in contracts between Christians, I’m pleased with the Court’s careful analysis and with its ultimate conclusion that such clauses are valid and enforceable.

Here’s the standard Christian dispute resolution clause for contracts:

Any claim or dispute arising from or related to this agreement shall be settled by mediation and, if necessary, legally binding arbitration in accordance with the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation of the Institute for Christian Conciliation. Judgment upon an arbitration may be entered in any court otherwise having jurisdiction. The parties understand that these methods shall be the sole remedy for any controversy or claim arising out of this agreement, and expressly waive their right to file a lawsuit in any civil court against one another for such disputes, except to enforce an arbitration decision.

 

 

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