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Serafin v. Balco Properties Ltd., LLC

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fourth Division

March 16, 2015

MADELINE SERAFIN, Plaintiff and Appellant,
BALCO PROPERTIES LTD., LLC et al., Defendants and Respondents.

Contra Costa County Superior Court No. C11-00916 Hon. Laurel S. Brady Judge

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Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch, Stephen M. Fuerch and Michael J. Greathouse for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Littler Mendelson and Eugene Ryu for Defendants and Respondents.





Madeline Serafin (Serafin) sued her former employer Balco Properties Ltd., LLC and related individuals and entities[1] (collectively Balco) alleging claims arising from her employment, including wrongful termination, harassment, and defamation. The trial court granted Balco’s motion to stay the litigation until the completion of binding arbitration based upon an arbitration agreement Serafin signed when she was hired by Balco. The arbitrator ultimately found in Balco’s favor on all issues, and the trial court granted Balco’s petition to confirm the arbitration award, entering judgment in Balco’s favor.

On appeal, Serafin argues the trial court erred in concluding her claims against Balco were subject to arbitration, contending she never entered into a

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binding agreement to arbitrate her employment-related claims. Alternatively, assuming the parties formed an agreement to arbitrate, Serafin contends the arbitration agreement was unenforceable because it was procedurally and substantively unconscionable. We disagree, and affirm the judgment in Balco’s favor.



Serafin was employed by Balco, an affiliate of Bay Alarm, as director of property management on or about June 26, 2009. A few days after she began work, she executed a two-page arbitration agreement, entitled “MANDATORY ARBITRATION POLICY.”

The terms of the arbitration agreement will be described in great detail during the course of this opinion. Vastly abbreviated, the arbitration agreement states, in pertinent part: “In the event of a disagreement or dispute between an employee and Bay Alarm, or any of its owners, manager, or other employees, arising out of or connected with his or her employment with Bay Alarm, it is the policy of Bay Alarm that the disputed matter shall be submitted to binding arbitration under the Rules of the American Arbitration Association applicable to employment disputes. All employees will be required to sign an acknowledgment stating that they understand this policy and will comply with it.” Serafin’s signature, dated June 29, 2009, appears at the bottom of page 2 stating, “I have read and understand this policy.”

Balco terminated Serafin’s employment on May 17, 2010. On January 19, 2011, Balco submitted a demand to the American Arbitration Association (AAA) to arbitrate a conversion claim against Serafin for return of $10, 798.08, [2] which allegedly represented an overpayment of wages. Balco also included a copy of a civil complaint Serafin had submitted to Balco, but had not yet filed in court, alleging numerous employment-related claims.

In April 2011, the parties selected an arbitrator. On April 15, 2011, Serafin initiated the underlying lawsuit in Contra Costa County Superior Court, alleging numerous employment-related causes of action against Balco, including retaliation, harassment, wrongful termination, unpaid earnings, breach of oral contract, common counts, conversion, and defamation.

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On May 27, 2011, Balco filed a motion to stay pending litigation based on the arbitration agreement Serafin signed shortly after she was hired. Despite Serafin’s opposition, the trial court granted Balco’s motion to stay on August 23, 2011, and directed the parties to complete arbitration.

On June 28, 2013, following a six-day arbitration hearing, the arbitrator issued a 59-page “Arbitration Decision and Award.” The arbitrator found in Balco’s favor on all of Serafin’s employment-related claims. The arbitrator also determined that Balco was entitled to return of the $10, 798.08 overpayment from Serafin.

On January 15, 2014, the trial court confirmed the arbitration decision and award, and entered judgment in Balco’s favor. On March 19, 2014, Serafin filed this appeal, claiming the trial ...

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