BookHolders v. DeHority et al.
Public Justice is co-counsel in BookHolders v. DeHority, BookHolders v. Pletch, and BookHolders v. Steincamp, cases presenting issues of wage theft and illegal retaliation where we and our co-counsel are defending three Virginia Tech students who were sued by their former employer, a chain of college bookstores called BookHolders, after they reported to the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry that BookHolders wasn’t paying them the Virginia minimum wage of $11.00/hour.
After learning of the complaints filed with the state agency, BookHolders’ CEO sent all three students threatening letters falsely claiming that their complaints to the agency violated the arbitration agreement they had signed when they began employment and demanding that they withdraw their complaints.
When they didn’t, he sued them for breach of contract in Maryland state court.
When BookHolders refused to drop the breach of contract suits after being sent a letter that detailed the law on arbitration and how it does not prevent reporting to government agencies, Public Justice and co-counsel filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuits under Maryland’s anti-SLAPP (strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, arguing that the students’ reports to law enforcement are not a breach of their arbitration agreements, and that the lawsuits were brought in bad faith to deter them from engaging in protected First Amendment activity.
Public Justice is participating in the case as part of its Access to Justice work in ensuring employees’ rights aren’t violated when it comes to corporate wrongdoing, and that corporations can’t get away with weaponizing arbitration clauses in employment contracts to suppress and silence workers’ claims. Read our press release here.
Similar to noncompete agreements, forced arbitration agreements are a powerful and insidious tool often used by corporations to chill workers who just want a job and do not fully understand the rights they are, and aren’t, giving up by agreeing to such provisions. For these three college students, agreeing to an arbitration clause meant the difference between being hired or not. Public Justice is proud to represent them and to defend their constitutional right to report their employer for illegal wage theft.