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Shannon Marsden v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana

December 28, 2012

SHANNON MARSDEN, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD OF MONTANA, INC. (BCBSMT), A HEALTH SERVICE CORPORATION, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM: District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. ADV 2012-260 Honorable Dorothy McCarter, Presiding Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brian Morris

Submitted on Briefs: October 24, 2012

Decided: December 28, 2012

Filed:

Clerk

Justice Brian Morris delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Shannon Marsden (Marsden) filed this action in which she alleges that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana (BCBSMT) wrongfully discharged her in violation of the Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA), §§ 39-2-901 to 39-2-915, MCA. BCBSMT sought to compel arbitration pursuant to an employment agreement that required arbitration of disputes. The District Court enforced the arbitration clause and transferred the matter to arbitration. Marsden appeals. We affirm.

¶2 Marsden raises the following issue on appeal:

¶3 Whether Marsden must contest the validity of her employment contract through arbitration in the first instance.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

¶4 BCBSMT, a Montana non-profit corporation, signed an employment agreement with Marsden, a Montana resident, on September 17, 2010. The employment agreement contained a clause to compel arbitration for any disputes regarding the employment agreement. The employment agreement provided that Marsden would work from November 8, 2010, to December 31, 2012. Marsden served for approximately one year. BCBSMT terminated her employment in December 2011.

¶5 BCBSMT alleged that it terminated Marsden because she failed to submit a timely bid on behalf of BCBSMT in response to the State of Montana's Request for Proposals. Marsden claimed that BCBSMT terminated her in retaliation for her reporting of BCBSMT's allegedly illegal practice related to the rebating of insurance commissions. BCBSMT paid Marsden $328,478.10 when it terminated her. This money represented the remaining compensation that BCBSMT believed that it owed Marsden for the balance of her two-year contract.

¶6 Marsden brought this action in which she claims that BCBSMT violated the WDEA. Marsden concedes that she could bring a WDEA claim only if she did not have a written contract of employment for a specific term. Section 39-2-912, MCA. Marsden argued, however, that the inclusion of a provision that allowed BCBSMT to terminate her employment if termination would be in the best interest of the company nullified the two-year term in her employment agreement. Marsden claimed therefore that she had been employed at-will.

ΒΆ7 BCBSMT argued that whether Marsden had a term contract remained disputed and should have been resolved through arbitration. The District Court compelled arbitration to allow the arbitrator to determine in the first instance ...


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