Protection for Minors Signing Contracts

In 2016, Minor [M], then age 16, signed a contract to work for a fast-food chain restaurant [R].  This was her first job.  At the time she was hired, she was given numerous papers to sign electronically and never provided with copies.  One of those papers was an agreement for arbitration for all claims against R.  She did not understand what she was signing, and no explanation was given to her; only that if she did not sign all of the papers, she would not be hired.

In April of 2018, M turned 18.  She continued to work for R for four months, and then quit in August of 2018.

M and her attorney sued R in state court.  M alleged that she was sexually assaulted and harassed by her supervisor and others at her place of employment, and R failed to prevent the harassment.  She also alleged that she was not provided with coffee breaks or lunch breaks, nor was she paid for working during those times.

R filed a motion to stop M’s lawsuit, saying M signed an agreement for arbitration.  Therefore, any wrongdoing M alleges R was responsible for, must go through the arbitration system.

In motions court, M argued that she could not be held to the arbitration agreement because she was a minor when she signed it.  R argued that M never gave R notice that she would not affirm the contract after she turned 18.  Also, M continued working for R for four months after her 18th birthday, and did not file suit until four months later.  M argued that she was allow to disaffirm the agreement under Family Code Section 6710.

Family Code Section 6710 states in part, “Except as otherwise provided by statute, a contract of a minor may be disaffirmed by the minor before majority or within a reasonable time afterwards or, in case of the minor’s death within that period, by the minor’s heirs or personal representative.”

The trial court determined that M’s quitting her employment within four months of turning 18 (the age of majority) and four months later suing R in court, was a disaffirmation of the agreement and was done in reasonable period of time.

R appealed, and the Appellate Court agreed with the trial court:

“Sound policy considerations support this provision: The law shields minors from their lack of judgment and experience and under certain conditions vests in them the right to disaffirm their contracts. Although in many instances such disaffirmance may be a hardship upon those who deal with [a minor], the right to avoid his contracts is conferred by law upon a minor ‘for his protection against his own improvidence and the designs of others.’ It is the policy of the law to protect a minor against himself and his indiscretions and immaturity as well as against the machinations of other people and to discourage adults from contracting with [a minor].”

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