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Rodriguez v. Four Seasons Hotels

July 10, 2009

RAMON RODRIGUEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FOUR SEASONS HOTELS, LTD., FOUR SEASONS HOTEL NEW YORK, THEIR SUBSIDIARIES, AGENTS, AND ASSIGNS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

Defendants Four Seasons Hotels, Ltd., Four Seasons Hotel New York, and their subsidiaries, agents, and assigns (collectively, "the Four Seasons") have moved to compel arbitration of certain of plaintiff Ramon Rodriguez's claims and to stay proceedings pending the arbitration's outcome. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

On March 26, 2009, Rodriguez filed this diversity action against the Four Seasons seeking damages and other relief. As set forth in Rodriguez's complaint, he is an Assistant Manager at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City, and he has worked for the Four Seasons since 1999. The complaint alleges that the Four Seasons discriminated against him on the basis of his race, color, sex, and national origin by, inter alia, passing him over for promotions and requiring him to train other white, female employees who were then promoted over him. Rodriguez also alleges that since reporting his complaints, the Four Seasons has retaliated against him by, inter alia, overlooking him for assignments, promotions, and basic training, and subjecting him to disciplinary action.

Rodriguez's complaint asserts two causes of action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., alleging discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on sex, color, race, and national origin, creation of a hostile work environment, and retaliation for engaging in protected activity. Rodriguez also asserts a claim under the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. L. Section 290 et seq., and a claim under the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code. Section 8-101 et seq. Finally, he asserts claims for the state law torts of intentional and negligent infliction of emotional harm.

The Four Seasons Hotel New York uses a document called "EmPact" to govern its relationship with employees. The second page of the EmPact booklet, titled "NOTICE," states that "[t]he conditions contained in this contract will apply to you unless and until they are specifically amended." (Emphasis supplied).

One of the many items addressed in the EmPact document is the Complaint, Arbitration & Review for Employees procedure for resolving problems and disputes, referred to as "C.A.R.E." EmPact describes the steps in the C.A.R.E. procedure, one of which is that if the employee is not satisfied with the general manager's written decision at a previous step in the C.A.R.E. process, and the complaint is based on, inter alia, employment discrimination or harassment as it relates to the employee's employment, then the employee "must submit [his or her] complaint to be heard by an independent mediator/arbitrator unless [the employee] has chosen to opt out of the mediation/arbitration provisions by following the opt-out procedure." Under C.A.R.E., the Four Seasons is responsible for all of the costs of the arbitration, except the employee is responsible for payment of $125 towards the arbitration filing fee.

Employees who choose to opt out of the mediation and arbitration provisions of C.A.R.E. are provided with an "Opt-Out Verification" form. That form informs employees that if they choose to opt out, they will not be eligible for, inter alia, the "No-Fault Separation Pay" associated with a permanent layoff or no-fault termination. Rodriguez does not claim to have chosen to opt-out of the mediation/arbitration provisions of C.A.R.E.

Rodriguez and the general manager of the Four Seasons signed an EmPact signature page most recently on February 3, 2006. That page states at the top, under the word "EmPact," in bold font: "My complete personal contract with the Four Seasons Hotel, New York." (Emphasis supplied). It goes on to provide that the Four Seasons "recognizes my valuable service as an employee, and agrees... to provide me with the benefits described in my EmPact. In return, I... agree to abide by the principles, goals and policies in this EmPact." The signature page provides that "EmPact is the entire agreement between [the employee] and Four Seasons Hotel, New York unless modified by a specific letter, the terms of which supersede certain defined parts of EmPact," and that the employee's working under EmPact's terms "supports this contract." (Emphasis supplied).

The signature page further provides that the employee "has read EmPact and promise[s] to," inter alia, "[u]se C.A.R.E. first for all complaints even if I have exercised my right to opt out of the mediation/arbitration provisions of C.A.R.E.," and unless the employee has exercised the right to opt out, to "use the mediation/arbitration procedure described in C.A.R.E. as the exclusive method of resolving any dispute [the employee] may have relating to termination of [the employee's] employment (including constructive discharge) and/or claims of employment discrimination, harassment, or wage/hour violations." (Emphases supplied). Similarly, the Four Seasons promises to, inter alia, "utilize C.A.R.E. as its exclusive remedy for resolving any disputes relating to [the employee's] termination (including claims of constructive discharge) and/or claims of employment discrimination, harassment, or wage/hour violations."

On December 29, 2008, the Four Seasons sent Rodriguez a Supplemental Offer of Employment, which would have adjusted his salary. The letter specifically provided that Rodriguez's employment would "continue to be governed by the terms of [his] original offer letter and EmPact," and that Rodriguez could accept the offer by signing and returning a copy of the letter. Rodriguez did not sign this supplemental offer letter.

On April 24, 2009, the Four Seasons filed a motion to compel arbitration of Rodriguez's claims and to stay this litigation pending the outcome of the arbitration. The motion was fully submitted on June 2, 2009.

DISCUSSION

The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") was designed to "ensure judicial enforcement of privately made agreements to arbitrate." Dean Witter Reynolds ...


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