Authenticated Certified Translation Required to Enforce Arbitration Agreement

The Cheesecake Factory Loses a Motion to Compel Arbitration in a Class Action Lawsuit for Failing to Present as Evidence a Certified Translation of the Arbitration Agreement

Certified legal translation services and legal interpreter services play an important role in the enforcement of arbitration clauses in the employment agreements with non-English-speaking employees. Noe Gonzalez is a former employee of The Cheesecake Factory Restaurants, Inc. (“Cheesecake Factory”) in Huntington, New York. Gonzalez v. Cheesecake Factory Restaurants, Inc., 21-CV-5017 (PKC) (SIL), 2023 WL 2477697, at *1 (E.D.N.Y., Mar. 13, 2023) (hereinafter “Gonzalez”). Gonzalez worked as a cook at the restaurant from 2009 until 2021. When Gonzalez began his employment, he signed contractual documents that were written in the Spanish language. In September 2021, Gonzalez filed a class action lawsuit against the Cheesecake Factory, claiming that it failed to provide him with wage statements and failed to pay him on time, in violation of New York Labor Laws. Gonzalez, at *1, fn1. In 2023, the Cheesecake Factory filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration, claiming that Gonzalez signed a binding and enforceable arbitration agreement when he began his employment. The court had to determine if such an agreement existed. Gonzalez, at *1.

The Court Required Admissible Evidence of the Existence of an Arbitration Agreement

The Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 2, provides for the enforcement of binding arbitration agreements between parties. A binding arbitration agreement obligates the parties to settle their dispute by the arbitration process rather than through court litigation. The party seeking to compel arbitration bears the burden of producing a valid arbitration agreement. In determining whether an arbitration agreement exists, the court only considers “admissible evidence submitted by the parties and contained in pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits.” Gonzalez, at *1 (quoting Nicosia v. Amazon.com, Inc., 834 F.3d 220, 229 (2d Cir. 2016) (emphasis in quoting text).

The Cheesecake Factory Produced a Spanish-Language Arbitration Agreement

To evidence the agreement with Gonzalez, the Cheesecake Factory produced the Spanish-language agreement that Gonzalez signed when he began his employment. However, the Cheesecake Factory failed to present a certified English translation of the Spanish-language agreement. Instead, a Cheesecake Factory corporate executive, who had no proficiency in Spanish, testified that the Cheesecake Factory hired a third-party translator to translate the contract and that the Spanish-language agreement was a “word-for-word” translation of the English-language agreement that the company uses for English-speaking employees. Gonzalez, at *1.

The Court Refused to Admit the Spanish-Language Arbitration Agreement Without a Certified English Translation

In determining whether to admit the Spanish-language contract as evidence of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate, the court found that the testimony of the Cheesecake Factory’s corporate executive was insufficient.

The court held that evidence is only admissible if it can be authenticated, which means that the Cheesecake Factory could “produce evidence sufficient to support a finding that the item is what the proponent claims it is.’” Gonzalez, at *1 (quoting Fed. R. Evid. 901(a)). The court noted the well-established rule that “a document in a foreign language is generally inadmissible unless accompanied by a certified English translation.” Gonzalez, at *1 (quoting Heredia v. Americare, Inc., No. 17 Civ. 06219 (RWL), 2020 WL 3961618, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. July 13, 2020). “A certified translation is one to which the author swears that the contents are true and accurate and also swears to his or her identity and qualifications to translate the relevant languages.” Gonzalez, at *1 (quoting Kasper Glob. Collection & Brokers, Inc. v. Glob. Cabinets & Furniture Mfrs. Inc., 952 F. Supp. 2d 542, 555 n.9 (S.D.N.Y. 2013). Because the Cheesecake Factory executive’s testimony was insufficient to satisfy this standard for an authenticated certified translation, the court refused to admit the Spanish-language agreement as evidence of an arbitration agreement. Gonzalez, at *1. As a result, the court denied the Cheesecake Factory’s motion to compel Gonzalez to arbitration.

A Certified English Translation Is Critical for Both Parties in the Litigation

Because it was the Cheesecake Factory’s burden to produce the certified English translation of the employment contract to prove that the parties had agreed to arbitrate their dispute, and it failed to do so, the court denied the Cheesecake Factory’s motion to compel arbitration. However, the court denied its request without prejudice, which means that the Cheesecake Factory is free to resubmit its motion to compel arbitration once it produces a certified English translation of the contract. Because of this, the court expressly cautioned Gonzalez that his pleadings were “steeped in legal conclusions about the binding effect . . . of th[e] agreement” and were “insufficient to defeat a motion to compel arbitration.” Gonzalez, at *1, fn2. Thus, the court stated that “[Gonzalez] would be well-advised to submit a competing translation of the agreement if he wishes to argue that a genuine factual dispute as to whether arbitration is compelled exists.” Gonzalez, at *1, fn2. In doing so, the court demonstrated how important it is to both sides of the dispute to obtain an expert, authenticated certified translation of documents written in a foreign language.

Get in touch with the Apostille, certified legal translation and deposition interpreter service All Language Alliance, Inc. to obtain authenticated certified legal translation of an arbitration agreement to English and to any foreign language, including Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Hebrew, French, Amharic, Hungarian, Polish, Thai, Czech, Romanian, and other common and exotic, less common foreign languages.

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