United States District Court, S.D. New York
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
For Plaintiff: John A. Beranbaum, Esq., Jennifer Lea Smith, Esq., Beranbaum Menken Ben-Asher & Bierman LLP, New York, NY.
For Defendants: Dena Calo, Esq., Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Genova Burns Giantomasi Webster, Newark, NJ.
OPINION & ORDER
KENNETH M. KARAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Plaintiff Lucia Marciano brings this action against DCH Auto Group (" DCH" ), a Delaware corporation that owns and operates a car dealership located in Mamaroneck, New York, and Brian Lam (" Lam" ) and Bernard Fee (" Fee" ), the General Manager and Sales Manager, respectively, of that dealership. ( See Third Am. Compl. (" Compl." ) (Dkt. No. 24) ¶ ¶ 8-9.) She alleges three claims of workplace discrimination arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e et seq., ( see id. ¶ ¶ 114-17), the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § § 12101 et seq., ( see id. ¶ ¶ 118-22), and New York's Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § § 290 et seq., ( see id. ¶ ¶ 123-28). Before the Court is Defendants' Motion To Compel Arbitration and for Attorneys' Fees. ( See Dkt. No. 35 (" Mot." ).) For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is granted in part and denied in part.
A. Factual History
In January 2009, Plaintiff sought a job at a car dealership owned by Defendant DCH. ( See Mem. of Law in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. To Compel Arbitration Pursuant to the FAA To Dismiss Pl.s' Compl. & for Atty's Fees (" Mem." ) (Dkt. No. 38) 7.) Plaintiff completed an employment application (" Employment Application" ), wherein she was asked to submit personal data and to sign two " Acknowledgement [sic] and Authorization" forms. ( See Decl. of Gene Hallenbeck in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. To Compel Arbitration Pursuant to the FAA & To Dismiss Pl.s' Compl. (" Hallenbeck Decl." ) (Dkt. No. 37), Ex. A.) One of the forms (" Employment Agreement" ) solicited Plaintiff's consent to various terms of employment, such as submission to random drug and alcohol testing, cooperation in background investigations, and terminable-atwill status. ( See id. at unnumbered 6.) The other form (" Arbitration Agreement" ) solicited her consent to submit certain types of claims against the company arising out of her employment exclusively to binding arbitration. ( See id. at unnumbered 4-5.) Plaintiff signed and dated both forms. ( See id. at unnumbered 5-6.)
Plaintiff thereafter accepted Defendants' offer of an " Internet Manager" position and commenced her employment on February 23, 2009. ( See Compl. ¶ 10.) Over the next two years, Plaintiff alleges that she suffered various forms of harassment and discrimination based on her gender, ( see id. ¶ ¶ 17, 26), and a disability, ( see id. ¶ ¶ 29-112). DCH ultimately terminated Plaintiff on March 30, 2011. ( See id. ¶ 113.)
B. Procedural History
Plaintiff initially filed a pro se Complaint in December 2011, naming DCH as the sole defendant. ( See Dkt. No. 2.) A summons was issued on January 19, 2012, and this Court granted each of Plaintiff's four requests to extend the service deadline, thereby effectively extending the original deadline by over a year. ( See Dkt. Nos. 9-13.) Before she complied with the extended deadline, however, she filed an Amended Complaint--again pro se--in December 2012, re-naming DCH as a defendant and adding Lam and Fee as co-defendants. ( See Dkt. No. 15.) Then, before serving the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff retained a law firm to represent her, and the Court gave her permission to file a Second Amended Complaint, ( see Dkt. Nos. 18-19, 21), which she filed on April 8, 2013, ( see Dkt No. 23). Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff's counsel requested leave to file a Third Amended Complaint due to " several typographical errors" it discovered in the Second Amended Complaint. ( See Dkt.
No. 22.) The Court granted this request, ( see id.), and Plaintiff filed her Third Amended Complaint on April 16, 2013, ( see Compl.). Plaintiff completed service on May 13, 2013. ( See Dkt. Nos. 25-26, 28.)
On May 10, 2013, Defendants sent a letter to the Court, informing it that they had asked Plaintiff to consider withdrawing her Complaint and submitting the matter to arbitration. ( See Dkt. No. 29 (Letter from Dena B. Calo to Court (May 10, 2013)).) Three days later, Defendants sent a letter requesting a premotion conference to discuss a potential motion to compel arbitration in light of the previously mentioned Arbitration Agreement that Plaintiff signed when she applied for a job with DCH. ( See Decl. of Dena B. Calo, Esq. in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. To Compel Arbitration Pursuant to the FAA To Dismiss Pl.s' Compl. & for Att'ys' Fees (" Calo Decl." ) (Dkt. No. 36), Ex. J (Letter from Dena B. Calo to Court (May 13, 2013)).) In response to this letter, Plaintiff's counsel informed the Court that she considered " parts of the arbitration agreement" to be " ambiguous," and that she had consequently " asked Defendants to stipulate to several additional terms as a condition of [Plaintiff] agreeing to voluntarily dismiss the Complaint and refile in arbitration." ( Id., Ex. K at unnumbered 1 (Letter from Jennifer Smith to Court (May 17, 2013)).) Defendants responded directly to Plaintiff's counsel, informing her that Defendants would " not agree to the proposed Stipulation" in general, but that they were " willing to stipulate . . . that they [would] pay all arbitration fees and costs . . . in accordance with [the American Arbitration Association's] Employment Arbitration Rules, as well as the initial filing fee in accordance with the signed Arbitration Agreement." ( Id., Ex. L at unnumbered 1-2 (Letter from Dena B. Calo to Jennifer Smith (May 20, 2013)).) At a hearing held on May 23, the Court ordered Plaintiff to respond to Defendants' letter by May 31, ( see Dkt. (minute entry for May 23, 2013)), and it subsequently granted Plaintiff's request for a two-week extension of that deadline, ( see Dkt. No. 34).
On June 13, Plaintiff's counsel sent a letter informing Defendants and the Court that Plaintiff " [did] not consent to transferring the case to arbitration." (Calo Decl., Ex. N at unnumbered 1.) Defendants thereafter filed the instant Motion To Compel Arbitration and for Attorneys' Fees on July 1. ( See Mot.; Mem.) Plaintiff filed an Opposition Memorandum on August 2, ( see Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. To Compel Arbitration Pursuant to the FAA, To Dismiss Pl.s' Compl. & for Att'ys' Fees (" Opp'n" ) (Dkt. No. 42)), which was followed by Defendants' Reply Memorandum on August 12, (see Reply Mem. of Law in Further Supp. of Defs.' Mot. To Compel Arbitration Pursuant to the FAA, To Dismiss Pl.s' Compl. & for Att'ys' Fees (" Reply" ) (Dkt. No. 48)). The Court then granted Plaintiff's request to file a Sur-reply Memorandum, (see Dkt. No. 49), which Plaintiff filed on September 24, (see Pl.'s Surreply Mem. of Law (" Sur-reply" ) (Dkt. No. 50)), and to which Defendant responded on October 7, ( see Defs.' Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Pl.'s Sur-reply & in Further Supp. of Defs.' Mot. To Compel Arbitration Pursuant to the FAA, To Dismiss Pl.s' Compl. & for Att'ys' Fees (" Opp'n to Sur-reply" ) (Dkt. No. 55)). The Court now turns to a discussion of Defendants' Motion.
1. Legal Standard
Defendants move to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (" FAA" ), which allows a party " aggrieved by the alleged failure, neglect, or refusal of another to arbitrate under a written agreement
for arbitration [to] petition any United States district court [with jurisdiction] . . . for an order directing that such arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in such agreement." 9 U.S.C. § 4. In this specific context, courts " appl[y] a standard similar to that applicable for a motion for summary judgment." Bensadoun v. Jobe-Riat, 316 F.3d 171, 175 (2d Cir. 2003). Under this standard, the Court evaluates " [a]llegations related to the question of whether the parties formed a valid arbitration agreement . . . to determine whether they raise a genuine issue of material fact." Schnabel v. Trilegiant Corp., 697 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2012). " If there is a genuinely disputed factual issue whose resolution is essential to the determination of the applicability of an arbitration provision, a trial as to that issue will be necessary." Wachovia Bank, Nat'l Ass'n v. VCG Special Opportunities Master Fund, Ltd., 661 F.3d 164, 172 (2d Cir. 2011); see also 9 U.S.C. § 4 (" If the making of the arbitration agreement . . . be in issue, the court shall proceed summarily to the trial thereof." ). However, " where the undisputed facts in the record require the matter of arbitrability to be decided against one side or the other as a matter of law, [a court] may rule on the basis of that legal issue and avoid the need for further court proceedings." Wachovia Bank, 661 F.3d at 172 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also 9 U.S.C. § 4 (" [U]pon being satisfied that the making of the agreement for arbitration or the failure to comply therewith is not in issue, the court shall make an order directing the parties to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the terms of the ...