United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION
JENNIFER L. THURSTON, Magistrate Judge.
TIC-The Industrial Company seeks to compel arbitration and stay this action filed by Joseph Jackson, Darrin Blackmon, Lashonda Brown, and Patrick Mitchell (collectively, "Plaintiffs"). (Doc. 8.) Plaintiffs filed their opposition to the motion on March 10, 2014 (Doc. 10), to which Defendant replied on March 17, 2014 (Doc. 11).
Defendant argues each Plaintiff signed their agreement to dispute any claims arising from the employment. Plaintiffs argue they were unaware that they signed arbitration agreements and that the agreement is substantively and procedurally unconscionable. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion to compel arbitration is GRANTED.
I. Relevant Factual and Procedural History
Plaintiffs initiated this action by filing a complaint on October 10, 2013 in Kern County Superior Court, Case No. S-1500-CV-298484-SPC. (Doc. 1-1 at 3.) Plaintiffs allege they were subjected to "an egregious pattern of workplace racial harassment, discrimination, and retaliation" as African-American employees of TIC. ( Id. at 7 ¶ 25.) In addition, Plaintiffs Joseph Jackson and Darrin Blackmon assert they "experienced harassment on account of their age" while employed at TIC. ( Id. at 8, ¶ 27.) Plaintiffs allege they "regularly complained... to their supervisors and to TIC's human resources department, " but "TIC's management took no meaningful action to end th[e] culture of workplace harassment." ( Id. , ¶¶ 30-31.) Plaintiffs allege that "TIC failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment and discrimination and negligently retained and supervised employees who perpetuated the harassment and discrimination, " and "[i]nstead, TIC singled-out and retaliated against each Plaintiff for speaking up." ( Id. , ¶ 32.) According to Plaintiffs, they were each wrongfully terminated from their positions at TIC. ( Id. at 8-9, ¶¶ 32-36.) Further, Plaintiffs allege "TIC repeatedly forced Plaintiffs Joseph Jackson and Darrin Blackmon to work ten (10) hour workdays or sixty (60) hour workweeks without receiving overtime compensation" and "deprived them of mandated meal and rest break periods." ( Id. at 9-10, ¶ 37.)
Based upon these allegations, Plaintiffs assert the following causes: (1) racial harassment in violation of Cal. Gov't Code §12940(j)(1); racial discrimination in violation of Cal. Gov't Code § 12940(a); (3) age-based harassment in violation of Cal. Gov't Code § 12940(j)(1); (4) discrimination in violation of Cal. Gov't Code § 12940(a); (5) failure to accommodate medical condition and/or physical disability in violation of Cal. Gov't Code § 12940(m); (6) wrongful termination in violation of public policy; (7) negligent supervision, hiring, and retention; (8) failure to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in violation of Cal. Gov't Code § 12940(j)(1) and (k); (9) retaliation in violation of Cal. Gov't Code § 12940 et seq. ; (10) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (11) unpaid and missed meal breaks in violation of Cal. Labor Code §§ 226.7(a) and 512(a); (12) unpaid and missed rest breaks in violation of Cal. Labor Code § 226.7(a) and IWC Wage Order 1-2001; (13) unpaid overtime compensation in violation of Cal. Labor Code §§ 510 and 1198; (14) improper wage statements in violation of Cal. Labor Code §§ 226(a); (15) civil penalties for failure to provide meal breaks pursuant to Cal. Labor Code § 2699; (16) civil penalties for failure to provide rest breaks pursuant to Cal. Labor Code § 2699; (17) civil penalties for unpaid overtime compensation pursuant to Cal. Labor Code § 2699; (18) civil penalties for improper wage statements pursuant to Cal. Labor Code § 2699; and (19) unfair business practices in violation of Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200. ( See generally Doc. 1-1 at 10-28.)
On December 23, 2013, TIC filed its Answer to the complaint, including in its affirmative defenses that Plaintiffs' claims were "subject to binding arbitration." (Doc. 1-1 at 115.) In addition, TIC filed a Notice of Removal, thereby initiating the matter in this Court. (Doc. 1.) Asserting the initiation of this lawsuit constitutes a breach of the plaintiffs' agreements to arbitrate claims related to their employment, TIC filed its motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act on February 20, 2014. (Doc. 8)
II. Legal Standard
The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") provides that written arbitration agreements "shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract." 9 U.S.C. § 2. A party seeking to enforce arbitration agreement may petition the Court for "an order directing the parties to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the terms of the agreement." 9 U.S.C. § 4.
The Court's role in applying the FAA is "limited to determining whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists and, if so, whether the agreement encompasses the dispute as issue." Lifescan, Inc. v. Premier Diabetic Servs. , 363 F.3d 1010, 1012 (9th Cir. 2004). To determine whether an arbitration agreement encompasses particular claims, the Court looks to the plain language of the agreement, and "[i]n the absence of any express provision excluding a particular grievance from arbitration... only the most forceful evidence of a purpose to exclude the claim from arbitration can prevail." United Steelworkers of Am. v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co. , 363 U.S. 574, 584-86 (1960). Because the FAA "is phased in mandatory terms, " "the standard for demonstrating arbitrability is not a high one [and] a district court has little discretion to deny an arbitration motion." Republic of Nicaragua v. Standard Fruit Co. , 937 F.2d 469, 475 (9th Cir. 1991).
"[A]ny doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration." Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp. , 460 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1983). As a result, arbitration should only be denied when "it may be said with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute." AT&T Tech., Inc. v. Communs. Workers of Am. , 475 U.S. 643, 650 (1986). It is well-established that "arbitration provides a forum for resolving disputes more expeditiously and with greater flexibility than litigation." Lifescan , 363 F.3d at 1011.
III. The Arbitration Agreement and Terms
Each of the plaintiffs completed the "Application for Employment" for TIC. ( See Doc. 8-3 at 3-32.) The two-page document contained the following arbitration provision:
TIC's arbitration policy applies to claims by the employees as well as claims by the employer. The policy provides as follows: Except for certain exceptions described below, all claims seeking damages (including punitive damages), injunctive relief, reinstatement and/or any other legal or equitable form of relief arising out of or in any way related to your employment are all subject to final and binding arbitration in accordance with the most current Rules of the American Arbitration Association for the Resolution of Employment Disputes.
" Claims ", as used herein, includes but is not limited to, disputes, claims and/or causes of action alleging personal injury or damage to property, discrimination, sexual harassment, failure to hire or to promote, wrongful termination, breach of contract (actual or implied), tortious interference with contract or with business relations, infliction of emotional distress (intentional or negligent), and/or any other claim or cause of action arising in contract and/or tort.
" Arising out of or in any way related to your employment " as used herein, includes but is not limited to (a) claims against TIC, TIC's parent, sister or subsidiary corporations and any affiliates, partners, or joint venturers of TIC; (b) claims against any person, company or entity (or any of their property) for whom or with whom TIC has done or may be doing work at any time during your employment; (c) claims against any person, company or entity to whom TIC owes any duty of indemnity. This policy does not and is not intended to prevent you from filing claims for workers' compensation or unemployment compensation, nor is it intended to prevent you from filing charges or complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal Occupation Safety & Health Administration, or other federal, state, or local agencies having similar responsibilities. Nothing in this policy shall be interpreted in a manner that limits your rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
Invalidity or unenforceability of one or more provisions of this Arbitration Section shall not affect any other provision of this Arbitration Section. Acceptance of the terms and conditions of this Arbitration policy is an express condition precedent to your employment with TIC.
(Doc. 8-3 at 4, emphasis in original.) In addition, the Application for Employment contained an "Acknowledgement" provision immediately above the signature line, which stated:
I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I HAVE READ AND FULLY UNDERSTAND THE SECTIONS OF THIS APPLICATION ENTITLED "ARBITRATION" AND "NOTICE TO APPLICANTS" AND I FURTHER UNDERSTAND THAT, IF EMPLOYED BY TIC, MY EMPLOYMENT AND ANY POST-EMPLOYMENT MATTERS RELATING TO, OR ARISING OUT OF MY EMPLOYMENT WILL BE SUBJECT TO THE CONDITIONS STATED THEREIN AND THAT THOSE CONDITIONS ARE EXPRESS CONDITIONS PRECEDENT TO MY EMPLOYMENT.
( Id. ) Each Plaintiff signed the application form which contained the above provisions. (Sullivan Decl., Exhs. A-J.) Further, each signed an acknowledgement of reading the jobsite policies, affirming "[t]hat he/she has read the arbitration requirements detailed in both the foregoing jobsite policies and his/her employment application and agrees to be bound by those requirements both ...