The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN GLEESON, District Judge
Plaintiff Ruth Baldeo brought this diversity action against her
former employer, Red Lobster, asserting claims of discrimination
in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law and the New
York City Human Rights Law. In addition, Baldeo asserts claims of
defamation, libel, slander, and tortious interference with
prospective contractual relationships under New York law. Baldeo
seeks both injunctive relief (specifically, to enjoin Red Lobster
employees from making certain allegedly defamatory statements
about her) and money damages. Defendant Darden Restaurants, Inc.
("Red Lobster") moves to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration.
For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted. The
action is stayed while the parties resort to the alternate
dispute resolution procedure to which they agreed.
In June 2000, Red Lobster hired Baldeo as a manager-trainee.
During her tenure at Red Lobster, Baldeo became a general manager
("GM"), and worked at several restaurants in Red Lobster's Long
Island region, including restaurants in Huntington, Carle Place,
Stony Brook, and Brooklyn. Baldeo alleges that beginning in
approximately September 2003, after Gregory Corbly became the
Director of Operations for the Long Island Region of Red Lobster,
Baldeo began to observe and experience gender discrimination
against female managers and supervisors, and was subject to a
hostile work environment. In addition, Baldeo alleges that she
was subject to other harassive behavior, in particular the
circulation of false statements concerning a purported sexual
relationship between Baldeo and a vendor or contractor, a
relationship which would be contrary to Red Lobster policy.
In approximately November 2003, Baldeo spoke to her former
supervisor Timothy Eames about the discrimination she was facing,
and he advised her to speak directly to Gregory Corbly (one of
the people allegedly participating in the discrimination) and
Suzanne Hanna, the Senior Vice President supervising Red
Lobster's Big East division. Baldeo alleges that when she met
with Corbly, he was angry at her for speaking to Eames, and told
her that she should quit. That same evening, Baldeo spoke with
Hanna and William Chillianis, a Director of Operations, about the
alleged discrimination. Baldeo alleges that after these
discussions, she was retaliated against in several ways, including: the undermining of
her authority as the GM of the Brooklyn restaurant; being asked
questions about her sexual activity with contractors; being
suspended on January 6, 2004; and finally, being terminated on
January 11, 2004.
On January 6, 2004, after Baldeo was informed of her
suspension, she contacted Christopher Heinbloch, the Senior Vice
President for Crew Relations. Heinbloch told Baldeo that an
investigation into Baldeo's conduct was being conducted, and that
the results of the investigation would be communicated to her.
Neither Heinbloch nor anyone else at Red Lobster called Baldeo to
discuss the results of this investigation. About a month after
her termination, Baldeo again called Heinbloch to stop Red
Lobster employees from circulating false rumors about Baldeo.
During that conversation, Baldeo informed Heinbloch of the
discrimination, harassment, and retaliatory conduct that she had
faced. In response, Heinbloch told Baldeo in effect that she
could do whatever she wanted but would not get her job back.
Heinbloch never told Baldeo that she "would have to proceed
through arbitration or follow any step of the [Dispute Resolution
Process]." Baldeo Aff. ¶ 25.
On May 25, 2004, Baldeo commenced this action.
B. The Dispute Resolution Procedure at Red Lobster
On the day Baldeo was hired, she was given a packet of
documents, which included a brochure regarding Red Lobster's
dispute resolution procedure ("DRP") entitled "Can we talk?"
Baldeo was told to review the packet and sign various documents,
including the DRP brochure, a process which took between 45 and
75 minutes. Baldeo alleges that the DRP process was not explained
to her on the day she was hired or at any time thereafter, nor
did anyone "carefully explain the DRP brochure's implications as
to the various legal rights [Baldeo] would have to waive in order to be a Red Lobster manager trainee [or
to] remain employed by [Red Lobster.]". (Baldeo Aff. ¶ 12.)
The Red Lobster "Can we talk?" brochure "gives [employees] an
overview of the [dispute resolution] procedure." The brochure
explains that Red Lobster has a four-step dispute resolution
process. Step one is the "open door policy," where employees are
encouraged to talk over problems such as discrimination. The
brochure states: "The manager's door is ALWAYS open, and you can
speak up totally without fear . . . they'll listen to you openly
and honestly and you never have to worry about reprisal or
retaliation." (emphasis in original.) The brochure states that an
employee can also call an Operations Director, division Senior
Vice President or Crew Relations representative to discuss her
If resort to the open door policy does not resolve the problem
to the employee's satisfaction, she may proceed to step two of
the DRP, which is "peer review." A request form to commence peer
review is available from a general manager (the position Baldeo
occupied). At the peer review stage, a panel of employees listens
to both sides, ...