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Gutierrez v. Sea World LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 26, 2014

EZEKIEL GUTIERREZ, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
SEA WORLD LLC, a Delaware corporation, and DOES 1 through 25, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION

BARRY TED MOSKOWITZ, Chief District Judge.

Defendant Sea World LLC ("Defendant") has filed a motion to compel arbitration and stay court proceedings pending arbitration. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS the motion.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff was employed by Sea World LLC as a Security Investigator from January 1998 through July 2012. ¶¶ 3, 12. On July 23, 2012, his employment was terminated. ¶12. On December 9, 2013, Ezekiel Gutierrez ("Plaintiff") filed this civil action in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Diego, Case No. 37-2013-00079100-CU-OE-CTL. The case was removed to this Court on January 17, 2014, and Sea World LLC filed the motion sub judice one week thereafter. Plaintiff asserts the following claims: (1) wrongful termination (Cal. Gov't. Code §§ 12490(a), §135); (Cal. Labor Code §§ 132(a), § 6400 et seq., 6401 et seq., 6401.7 et seq. ); (2) discrimination on basis of physical disability (Cal. Gov't. Code § 12490(a)); (3) failure to accommodate (Cal. Gov't. Code § 12490(m)); (4) failure to engage in the interactive process (Cal. Gov't. Code § 12490(n)); (5) negligent supervision; (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (7) injunctive relief.

Upon hiring, Plaintiff received a copy of the Company's Team Member Handbook ("Employee Handbook") among other preemployment documents. (Decl. of Ezekiel Gutierrez ¶3.) On April 24, 2007, Plaintiff signed an acknowledgement, affirming that he had received a copy of the Employee Handbook. (Def's Ex. E.) Prior to 2009 and since 1997, Defendant had participated in a dispute resolution program which had been administered by Anheuser-Busch Companies, the then parent corporation of Defendant. (Decl. of Anne Dill ¶¶4-6, Ex. A.) In late 2009, Defendant revised its program, notified its employees of the new dispute resolution program ("DRP") by mail, and made the new forms available in Defendant's Human Resources department. ( Id. ¶7, Ex. C.) The DRP includes three procedural levels, culminating in final, binding arbitration. (Id.) The DRP Policy states:

The DRP applies to all employees of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc. and/or any of its subsidiaries, divisions or affiliated companies ("Employees").
...
While Employees may submit any employment-related dispute at Level 1, only covered claims will be accepted and processed at Levels 2 and 3. Covered claims are claims relating to or arising out of the employment relationship that:
A. the Company may have against an Employee....
B. the Employee may have against the Company... where the Employee alleges unlawful termination and/or unlawful or illegal conduct on the part of the company including... claims relating to involuntary terminations... employment discrimination... retaliation... accommodation... tort claims... claims for violation of public policy.

(Def's Ex. C at 6.)

Defendant's letter to its employees included the following language:
The program will continue to have all of the same provisions and benefits as before and will continue to be the exclusive method of addressing any of your employment-related disputes that cannot be resolved informally with your supervisor, Human Resources or other managers....
As a SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Inc. employee, the DRP constitutes a binding legal agreement between you and the company, so please read the new procedure materials carefully. Your continued employment with the company means both you and the company have agreed to the terms and conditions of the SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Inc. Dispute ...

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