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DeBono v. Washington Mutual Bank

December 8, 2006

JOSEPH DEBONO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WASHINGTON MUTUAL BANK, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chin, D.J.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Pro se plaintiff Joseph DeBono, a former employee of defendant Washington Mutual Bank ("Washington Mutual"), brings the instant action alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Defendant asserts that plaintiff's claim should be settled in arbitration, as opposed to federal court, because plaintiff signed a binding arbitration agreement. Accordingly, Washington Mutual moves to stay the instant action and to compel arbitration pursuant to Section 3 of the Federal Arbitration Act (the "FAA"), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Washington Mutual employed DeBono as a loan consultant from approximately August 11, 2003 to March 17, 2004. (Hagin Affidavit ¶ 4).

As a condition of employment, plaintiff was required to complete and sign a binding arbitration agreement (the "Agreement"). (Hale Affidavit ¶ 5). The conditions of employment were initially described in an offer letter and an addendum sent to plaintiff dated July 15, 2003. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5, Ex. D). The offer letter stated, in relevant part, that the offer of employment was contingent upon "[c]ompletion of Washington Mutual's Binding Arbitration Agreement (enclosed)." (Id. ¶ 5, Ex. D). In the next paragraph, the offer letter provided that "[i]f you [plaintiff] agree to the terms of this offer please indicate so by signing this letter and the Binding Arbitration Agreement." (Id. ¶¶ 6-7, Ex. D). The latter paragraph was in bold-face type, and was also included in the offer addendum. (Id.).

On or about July 22, 2003, plaintiff signed the offer letter, the addendum, and the Agreement.*fn1 (Id. ¶ 9, Ex. E; Hagin Affidavit ¶ 5, Ex. B). The Agreement, which consists of three pages, provides that "[a]ny and all disputes that involve or relate in any way to [plaintiff's] employment (or termination of employment) with Washington Mutual shall be submitted to and resolved by final and binding arbitration." (Hagin Affidavit ¶ 6, Ex. B at ¶ 1). The Agreement covered civil claims involving plaintiff's employment with defendant "including, but not limited to, claims of employment discrimination or harassment on the basis of race . . . [and] color . . . (including, but not limited to, claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. . .)." (Id. ¶ 7, Ex. B at ¶ 3).

On December 9, 2005, after he was discharged by Washington Mutual, plaintiff filed this action under Title VII, alleging race discrimination, retaliation, and harassment. (Id. ¶ 3, Ex. A).

This motion followed.

DISCUSSION

Two issues are presented. The first is whether the Agreement between plaintiff and defendant is valid and enforceable. The second is whether plaintiff's claims are subject to arbitration. I discuss the issues in turn.

A. The Validity and Enforceability of the Agreement

1. Applicable Law

On a motion to compel arbitration, "any disputed issues of fact concerning the existence of a binding agreement to arbitrate are decided under the standard that applies to a motion for summary judgment." Sands Bros. & Co., Ltd. v. Ettinger, No. 03 Civ. 7854 (DLC), 2004 WL 541846, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. March 19, 2004) (citing Bensadoun v. Jobe-Riat, 316 F.3d 171, 175 (2d Cir. 2003)).

"An arbitration agreement's validity is a matter of state law." Sherr v. Dell, Inc., No. 05 CV 10097 (GBD), 2006 WL 2109436, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 27, 2006). "When deciding whether the parties agreed to arbitrate a certain matter (including arbitrability), courts generally . . . should apply ordinary state-law principles that govern the ...


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