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Cortez v. Ross Dress for Less, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 10, 2014

ROSA CORTEZ AND DIANA ROBLES, California residents, individually, and on behalf of themselves, all others similarly situated, and on behalf of all aggrieved employees, Plaintiffs,
ROSS DRESS FOR LESS, INC., a Virginia corporation, Defendant.


DEAN D. PREGERSON, District Judge.

Before the court is Defendant Ross Dress for Less, Inc. ("Ross")'s Motion to Compel Arbitration. (Dkt. No. 17.) The Motion is fully briefed. Having considered the parties' submissions and heard oral argument, the court now adopts the following order.

I. Background

On July 27, 2013, Plaintiffs Rosa Cortez ("Cortez") and Diana Robles ("Robles"), both former employees of Ross, brought this putative collective and class action lawsuit against Ross on behalfof themselves and other current and former Ross employees. (Dkt. No. 1) The Complaint alleges that Ross violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and various California wage and hour statutes by failing to pay them and their coworkers for all of their hours of work. (Id. ¶¶ 40-103.)

On October 21, 2013, Ross filed a motion to compel Plaintiffs to submit their claims to individual arbitration. (Dkt. No. 17.) In support of this motion, Ross submitted evidence that Cortez and Robles signed agreements in which they waived the right to pursue any employment-related claims under the FLSA and parallel state laws before a court or jury, and committed instead to submit any such claims to mediation or binding arbitration.

Specifically, Ross submitted forms signed by Cortez and Robles, dated July 30, 2007 and September 9, 2004 respectively, acknowledging receipt and agreeing to the terms of the "Ross Arbitration Policy" ("RAP"). (See Declaration of Daphne Broadnax in Support of Motion, Exs. R & P.) Plaintiffs have at no time disputed that the documents bear their signatures. According to Ross, the acknowledgment form was included in a Store Associates Handbook containing the RAP, which, until mid-2011, employees were asked to sign upon beginning their employment with the company. (See Broadnax Decl. ¶ 1-4, Exs. P & R.)

Additionally, Ross submitted records purportedly indicating that in 2011 both Cortez and Robles electronically signed a revised version of the RAP, re-titled "Dispute Resolution Agreement" ("DRA"), through Ross's online "Learning Management System." (See Declaration of Emilie Couzzo in Support of Motion ¶ 1-15, Exs. A-O.) Ross submitted evidence showing that Cortez and Robles clicked "I agree" after being presented with the text of the DRA through the online program. (Id.)

The DRA provides that "disputes arising out of or related to [the employee's] employment with Ross or its termination" shall be "resolved by mediation or by final and binding arbitration and not by a court or jury." (Id. Ex. F.) The DRA also provides that "[t]here will... be no right or authority for any dispute to be brought or arbitrated as a class or class action." (Id.) The RAP contains provisions that are substantively equivalent to the DRA, varying only in phrasing. (See Broadnax Decl. Exs. R & P.)

Ross asserts that the more recently signed DRA superseded the RAP and brings this Motion on the basis of the DRA. However, Ross contends that if the DRA is for any reason unenforceable, its Motion to Compel Arbitration should be granted on the basis of the earlier signed RAP. (See Motion at 2; Reply at 1-3.)

II. Legal Standard

The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") reflects a "federal policy favoring arbitration agreements." Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp. , 500 U.S. 20, 25 (1991) (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem. Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp. , 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983)). Under the FAA, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., a written agreement that controversies between the parties shall be settled by arbitration is "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 aggrieved by the refusal of another to arbitrate under a written arbitration agreement may petition the court for an order directing that arbitration proceed as provided for in the agreement. 9 U.S.C. § 4; see e.g. Stirlen v. Supercuts, Inc. , 51 Cal.App.4th 1519, 1526-27 (1997). In considering a motion to compel arbitration, the court must determine whether there is a duty to arbitrate the controversy, and "this determination necessarily requires the court to examine and, to a limited extent, construe the underlying agreement." Stirlen , 51 Cal.App.4th at 1527. The determination of the validity of an arbitration clause is solely a judicial function. Id . (internal citation omitted). If the court is satisfied that the making of the arbitration agreement or the failure to comply with the agreement is not at issue, the court shall order the parties to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the terms of the agreement. 9 U.S.C. § 3.

III. Discussion

A. Existence of a Valid ...

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