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BIERDEMAN v. SHEARSON LEHMAN HUTTON

June 20, 1990

Lauryn Agnew BIERDEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
SHEARSON LEHMAN HUTTON, INC., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PECKHAM

 ROBERT F. PECKHAM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

 I. INTRODUCTION.

 We are presented with a motion by defendant Shearson Lehman Hutton ("Shearson") to stay proceedings and compel arbitration in this sex discrimination suit brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Plaintiff Lauryn Agnew Bierdeman was employed by Shearson as an institutional equity salesperson. She alleges that Shearson first reduced her compensation and ultimately terminated her employment because of her sex and in retaliation for her twice taking pregnancy leave. After timely submitting her claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and receiving a notice of right to sue, Bierdeman filed this action in federal district court. She has refused to submit to arbitration, arguing that the Title VII statute and judicial authority interpreting it entitle her to pursue a remedy in federal court without first submitting her grievance to binding arbitration.

 Defendant Shearson now moves to stay Bierdeman's action and to compel her to submit her claim to arbitration. Shearson argues that Bierdeman is contractually bound to arbitrate her claim by the constitutions and regulations of the New York Stock Exchange ("NYSE"), National Association of Securities Dealers ("NASD"), and American Stock Exchange ("AMEX"), which she agreed to comply with when she accepted employment with defendant. Shearson wants Bierdeman to submit to arbitration as provided by the rules of these organizations.

 Shearson attempts to distinguish Supreme Court authority holding that arbitration agreements cannot prevent Title VII plaintiffs from pursuing their remedies in federal court. In doing so, Shearson separates the Supreme Court's decisions on the arbitrability of various statutory claims into decisions involving collective bargaining agreements and decisions involving privately negotiated commercial arbitration agreements such as those implicated here. While this categorization allows Shearson to distinguish Supreme Court precedent holding that Title VII plaintiffs do not waive their right to a judicial remedy by signing an arbitration agreement, it is nevertheless spurious. The decisions which Shearson relies upon in arguing for enforcement of the NYSE, NASD, and AMEX arbitration provisions without exception involve statutes other than Title VII.

 Plaintiff Lauryn Bierdeman went to work for Lehman Brothers in May, 1983, as an institutional equity salesperson. The following year, defendant Shearson acquired Lehman Brothers. When plaintiff accepted her position, she signed an agreement which provided in pertinent part, "I agree to arbitrate any dispute, claim, or controversy that may arise between me and my firm . . . . that is required to be arbitrated under the rules, constitutions, or by-laws of the organizations with which I register . . . ." Shearson alleges that plaintiff then registered with the NYSE, the NASD, and AMEX, and that the constitutions and rules of those organizations require her to arbitrate her claim.

 Bierdeman claims that Shearson discriminated against her on the basis of her sex; specifically, she contends that her bonus compensation was cut and that she was eventually terminated because she took pregnancy leave. Bierdeman was the only female employee in Shearson's West Coast Equity Sales Department. She took two three-month pregnancy leaves during the time she was employed by Shearson -- the first from October through December of 1985, and the second from May through July of 1987. She alleges that her supervisors reduced the number of accounts that she managed and reduced the number of "bonus points" she received after her first pregnancy leave. After her second leave, she alleges that her bonus points were again cut and that Shearson removed a Quotron machine which she contends she needed in order to be able to perform her job. She was terminated in December 1987 and replaced with a male employee on the same day.

 Bierdeman contends that Shearson agents and employees told her that her pregnancy leaves were not in the company's best interests. She contends that she heard through a client that Shearson told the client she was terminated because she preferred to be at home with her children.

 Bierdeman filed a complaint with the EEOC and received a notice of right to sue. She timely filed this action on December 18, 1989. Shearson has formally demanded that Bierdeman submit her grievance to arbitration. Demand Letter, Declaration of Jeffrey L. Friedman at Exhibit 2. Plaintiff maintains that she is not compelled to do this.

 III. DISCUSSION.

 Defendant Shearson's position is that plaintiff agreed at the time of accepting employment to submit any complaints against Shearson to arbitration. In support of this position, Shearson relies upon her agreement, quoted above, to comply with the arbitration regulations of any self-regulating organizations ("SRO's") of securities brokers that she registered with.

 Bierdeman registered with the NYSE, the NASD and AMEX. Declaration of Jeffrey L. Friedman at para. 7 and at Exhibit 1. NYSE Rule 600(a) provides that any dispute or claim arising between a member organization and an "associated person" of that member organization shall be submitted to arbitration. The NASD Code of Arbitration Procedure § 8(a) similarly provides for the submission to arbitration of "any dispute, claim, or controversy arising out of or in connection with the business of any member of the association." Shearson asserts that the AMEX arbitration rules also bind plaintiff to submit to arbitration. Ninth Circuit authority holds that the arbitration provisions contained in the rules of the various SRO's have contractual force. Muh v. Newburger, Loeb, & Co., Inc., 540 F.2d 970, 973 (9th Cir. 1976). Therefore, we find that Shearson has made a prima facie showing that a ...


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