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Lahoud v. Document Technologies, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. New York

November 14, 2017

JOSEPH LAHOUD, Plaintiff,
v.
DOCUMENT TECHNOLOGIES LLC, JOHN DAVENPORT JR., in his individual and professional capacities, DOUGLAS GERSNTER, in his individual and professional capacities, and LISA DADY, in her individual and professional capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          P. Kevin Castel, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Joseph Lahoud brings claims of age discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § § 621, et seq. (the “ADEA”), the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Executive Law § 290 et seq. (“NYSHRL”), the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y. City Administrative Code § 8-101 et seq. (“NYCHRL”) and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, Connecticut General Statute §§ 46a-60, et seq. (“CFEPA”). According to the Complaint, Lahoud's supervisors mocked and belittled him on the basis of his age, and then terminated him in retaliation three months after his attorney sent them a letter identifying discriminatory conduct.

         In 2005, Lahoud entered into an employment agreement that contains a forum selection clause and an arbitration clause. Relying on that forum selection clause, defendants Document Technologies LLC (“DTI”), John Davenport Jr. and Lisa Dady move to dismiss the complaint on the basis of improper venue pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3), Fed.R.Civ.P. (Docket # 34.) Alternatively, they move to compel arbitration. (Docket # 34.) Defendant Douglas Gerstner has filed a separate motion raising the same arguments. (Docket # 37.)

         For the reasons that will be explained, the Court concludes that Lahoud consented that the venue for his claims “shall rest exclusively in” the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia. Defendants' Rule 12(b)(3) motions are therefore granted. The Court does not reach defendants' motions to compel arbitration. BACKGROUND.

         A. Overview of the Complaint.

         While employed at DTI, Lahoud had the job title of Regional Director of Service Solutions. (Amended Complaint (the “Complaint”) ¶ 21.) He alleges that in or around 2013, defendant Gerstner, to whom he reported, began to mock and belittle him in the workplace, calling him “fat and old” and “up there in age, ” while also encouraging him to retire. (Compl't ¶¶ 3, 27-36, 39-42.) At the time, Lahoud was seventy years old. (Compl't ¶ 37.)

         Defendants Dady and Davenport allegedly followed Gerstner's example, and also encouraged Lahoud to retire. (Compl't ¶¶ 5-6, 58-69.) Dady suggested that Lahoud change jobs within the company, a move that Lahoud says would have required “a massive pay cut.” (Compl't ¶ 62.) Lahoud alleges that Dady and Gerstner began to channel work away from him and toward his younger colleagues. (Compl't ¶¶ 63, 68.) At one point, Davenport, the company's CEO, told Lahoud that unless he retired, Dady would “begin writing him up, ” and that “at best, [Davenport] could ‘buy him' another six months with DTI.” (Compl't ¶ 6.)

         In January 2016, Dady asked Lahoud whether he had “given any thought to retiring.” (Compl't ¶¶ 59-60.) Lahoud responded that he wanted to remain with DTI. (Compl't ¶ 61.) After that conversation, Davenport called Lahoud and told him that he would not let anyone “push you out.” (Compl't ¶ 70.) However, in a July 2016 conversation, Davenport raised the issue of Lahoud's retirement, stating that Dady had “no confidence” in Lahoud and that DTI would give him a generous retirement package. (Compl't ¶¶ 73-80.)

         On July 27, 2016, Lahoud's attorney wrote to DTI describing the company's alleged discriminatory and retaliatory conduct. (Compl't ¶ 81.) On October 12, 2016, DTI placed Lahoud on a performance improvement plan, which included goals that the Complaint calls “unrealistic and virtually impossible . . . .” (Compl't ¶ 82.) Lahoud filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Connecticut Human Rights Office on October 20, 2016. (Compl't ¶ 83.) DTI terminated Lahoud's employment on January 5, 2017. (Compl't ¶ 84.)

         Lahoud brings claims of age discrimination and retaliation under the ADEA solely against DTI. (Compl't ¶¶ 89-96.) He brings claims of age discrimination and retaliation under the NYSHRL and the NYCHRL against all defendants. (Compl't ¶¶ 97-114.) With leave of the Court, and while these motions to dismiss were pending, Lahoud filed an Amended Complaint on July 7, 2017. (Docket # 51.) The amendment added claims of age discrimination and retaliation under the CFEPA against all defendants, but did not allege any new facts. (See id.) Because the defendants' motions are directed toward forum-selection and arbitration provisions in Lahoud's employment agreement with DTI, the amendment does not affect the consideration of defendants' motions, and their outcomes apply equally to the CFEPA claims.

         B. Lahoud's Employment Agreement with DTI.

         On February 28, 2005, Lahoud executed a Sales Representative Agreement (the “Agreement”) with DTI. (Lario Dec. Ex. A.) Paragraph 20 of the Agreement states that the “parties acknowledge and agree” that they have had an opportunity to negotiate and prepare the Agreement, and Lahoud “acknowledges that he has had the opportunity to consult legal counsel regarding the terms hereof.” (Id.)

         The defendants urge that the Complaint should be dismissed because the parties agreed to a forum-selection clause providing exclusive jurisdiction to the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia for all legal and equitable claims “arising out of or relating to” the Agreement. Alternatively, they seek to compel arbitration on all of Lahoud's claims.

         Paragraph 21 of the Agreement is headed “Consent to Jurisdiction and Venue and Selection of Forum, ” and provides that jurisdiction and venue for claims under the Agreement “shall rest exclusively in” the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia. (Id.) It states in full:

In regard to any action to enforce or interpret this Agreement, or otherwise arising out of or relating to this Agreement, each party (1) consents and submits to personal jurisdiction and venue in the Superior Court of Fulton County, State of Georgia (referred to as the “Court”); (ii) waives any and all objections to jurisdiction and venue in the Court; and (iii) waives any objection that the Court is an inconvenient forum. Each party further agrees that jurisdiction and venue concerning any legal or equitable action to enforce or interpret this Agreement, or otherwise arising out of this Agreement, ...

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