Jenkins v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc., Case No.: 17cv1999-MMA (BGS)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
Writing for the CourtHON. MICHAEL M. ANELLO United States District Judge
PartiesANGELA JENKINS, Plaintiff, v. STERLING JEWELERS, INC., Defendant.
Decision Date16 February 2018
Docket NumberCase No.: 17cv1999-MMA (BGS)

ANGELA JENKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
STERLING JEWELERS, INC., Defendant.

Case No.: 17cv1999-MMA (BGS)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

February 16, 2018


ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION

Doc. No. 4

Plaintiff Angela Jenkins ("Plaintiff") commenced the instant action against Defendant Sterling Jewelers, Inc. ("Defendant") on September 29, 2017, asserting fifteen causes of action arising from her employment with Defendant. See Complaint. Defendant moves to compel arbitration of Plaintiff's claims pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act. See Doc. No. 4. Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendant's motion, to which Defendant replied. See Doc. Nos. 5, 9. The Court found the matter suitable for determination on the papers and without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1.d.1. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART Defendant's motion to compel arbitration.

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BACKGROUND

On August 16, 2010, Plaintiff began working as a Sales Associate for Defendant's Escondido, California location. Doc. No. 4-6 (hereinafter "Broadhead Decl.") ¶ 4; see also Doc. No. 5-1 (hereinafter "Jenkins Decl.") ¶ 5. That same day, Plaintiff signed a document entitled "California Resolve Program Alternative Dispute Resolution Arbitration Agreement." Broadhead Decl. ¶ 4. The Arbitration Agreement1, a two-page document, provides in pertinent part:

I . . . hereby agree to utilize the Sterling RESOLVE Program to pursue any pre-employment, employment or post-employment dispute, claim, or controversy (collectively called "claim") against Sterling Jewelers Inc., its predecessors, successors, affiliates . . . and attorneys (collectively called "Sterling") regarding any alleged unlawful act regarding my application for employment, employment or the termination of my employment which could have otherwise been brought before an appropriate court including, but not limited to, claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act . . . any state anti-discrimination statutes; wage and hour laws; equal pay laws; any other federal, state or local civil or human rights law or any other local, state or federal law, regulation or ordinance; or any public policy, contract, tort or common law.

. . .

The parties agree to follow the multi-step process outlined in the RESOLVE Program, which culminates in the use of arbitration. In such an event, the claim shall be arbitrated by one arbitrator in accordance with the National Rules for the Resolution of Employment Disputes of the American Arbitration Association ("AAA") as amended by the Sterling RESOLVE Program. The arbitrator's decision shall be final and binding. The arbitrator

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shall have the power to award any types of legal or equitable relief that would be available under applicable law.

Doc. No. 4-7 at 2.

Finally, the paragraph preceding Plaintiff's signature provided an opt-out mechanism to the RESOLVE arbitration program. Specifically, the document provided, "[e]mployee acknowledges that he/she has the right to opt out of this Agreement by sending a letter to RESOLVE Program Administration, c/o RESOLVE Program Administrator at 375 Ghent Road, Akron, Ohio 44333, and postmarked within 30 calendar days, stating Employee wishes to 'opt-out' of this Agreement." Id. at 3.

On June 20, 2017, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment "for being disrespectful and uncooperative" with respect to an interview conducted by Defendant's loss prevention investigator, Paul Leasum, on June 19, 2017. Complaint ¶¶ 22, 26. Plaintiff indicates that the EEOC issued a "Right to Sue" letter on or about August 1, 2017. Id. ¶ 31. Plaintiff filed this action on September 29, 2017, asserting fifteen causes of action arising from her employment with Defendant. See Complaint. Defendant now moves to compel arbitration pursuant to the Arbitration Agreement dated August 16, 2010, bearing the signature of "Angela Jenkins." See Doc. Nos. 4; 4-7 at 3.

LEGAL STANDARD

The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") permits "[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 . . . for an order directing that . . . arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in [the arbitration] agreement." 9 U.S.C. § 4. Upon a showing that a party has failed to comply with a valid arbitration agreement, the district court must issue an order compelling arbitration. Id.

The Supreme Court has stated that the FAA espouses a general policy favoring arbitration agreements. AT & T Mobility v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011). Federal courts are required to rigorously enforce an agreement to arbitrate. See id. Courts are also directed to resolve any "ambiguities as to the scope of the arbitration

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clause itself . . . in favor of arbitration." Volt Info. Scis., Inc. v. Bd. of Trs. of Leland Stanford Jr. Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 476-77 (1989).

In determining whether to compel a party to arbitration, the Court may not review the merits of the dispute; rather, the Court's role under the FAA is limited "to determining (1) whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists and, if it does, (2) whether the agreement encompasses the dispute at issue." Cox v. Ocean View Hotel Corp., 533 F.3d 1114, 1119 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). If the Court finds that the answers to those questions are "yes," the Court must compel arbitration. See Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v. Byrd, 470 U.S. 213, 218 (1985). If there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to any of these queries, a district court should apply a "standard similar to the summary judgment standard of [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56]." Concat LP v. Unilever, PLC, 350 F. Supp. 2d 796, 804 (N.D. Cal. 2004).

Agreements to arbitrate are valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract. 9 U.S.C. § 2. Courts must apply ordinary state law principles in determining whether to invalidate an agreement to arbitrate. Ferguson v. Countrywide Credit Indus., 298 F.3d 778, 782 (9th Cir. 2002). As such, arbitration agreements may be invalidated by generally applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, duress, or unconscionability. Concepcion, 563 U.S. at 339-41.

DISCUSSION

A. Objections to Evidence

As a preliminary matter, both parties have submitted various evidentiary objections in connection with the instant motion. See Doc. Nos. 5-3, 9-2. Defendant filed a response to Plaintiff's evidentiary objections. See Doc. No. 9-3. The Court addresses the parties' objections in turn.

1. Plaintiff's Objections

Plaintiff objects to two excerpts of the declaration of Ms. Tracie Childs, submitted

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in support of Defendant's motion to compel arbitration, on the grounds that the statements lack foundation, have not been properly authenticated, and constitute improper opinion. See Doc. No. 5-3 at 2. In reaching its conclusion below, the Court does not rely on any statements that lack foundation, constitute improper opinion, or that have not been properly authenticated. Thus, to the extent the Court considers such statements, the Court OVERRULES Plaintiff's objections to Ms. Childs' declaration.

Additionally, Plaintiff objects to two excerpts of the declaration of Ms. Jamie Broadhead, submitted in support of Defendant's motion to compel arbitration, and Exhibit A attached thereto, on the grounds that such statements and Exhibit A constitute hearsay, lack foundation, constitute an improper opinion, and have not been properly authenticated. See Doc. No. 5-3 at 2-3. Specifically, Plaintiff contends the declaration "lacks both foundation and authentication because there is no evidence submitted that shows she was present and/or employed by Defendant at the time Plaintiff was hired. There is no evidence to support the purported conclusion/opinion that Pllaintiff [sic] signed the documents as declared by Ms. Broadhead." Id. at 2. Moreover, Ms. Broadhead "fails to provide any testimony that she is familiar with Plaintiff's signature and/or has evaluated and compared the signature to establish that she is qualified to render an opinion." Id. at 3.

In her declaration, Ms. Broadhead states that she is employed by Sterling as the Director of Human Resources Shared Services. Broadhead Decl. ¶ 2. In that capacity, Ms. Broadhead "oversee[s] the orientation and onboarding for new employees for Sterling in California," and is "familiar with the policies, procedures, and documentation maintained by the Human Resources Department in the ordinary course of Sterling business." Id. Moreover, Ms. Broadhead attaches as Exhibit A, a true and correct copy of Sterling's RESOLVE Program Alternative Dispute Resolution Arbitration Agreement, "which Plaintiff executed." Id. ¶ 5.

Here, the Court finds that Plaintiff's objections with respect to Ms. Broadhead's declaration, and attached exhibit, are without merit. Based upon Ms. Broadhead's

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position as Director of Human Resources Shared Services, Ms. Broadhead has personal knowledge of the files and records Sterling maintains in the ordinary course of business. See Fed. R. Evid. 602. The Court finds Ms. Broadhead has properly authenticated Exhibit A as a true and correct copy of Sterling's Arbitration Agreement, purportedly signed by Plaintiff. See Fed. R. Evid. 901(a); 901(b)(1). That Ms. Broadhead was not present when Plaintiff signed the agreement is irrelevant to whether Ms. Broadhead has properly authenticated the document.

Moreover, Ms. Broadhead's statement that "[i]mmediately upon [Plaintiff's] hire, Plaintiff executed the Arbitration Agreement with Sterling" does not constitute an improper opinion. Ms. Broadhead does not purport to offer any scientific or technical testimony regarding the signature contained on the Arbitration Agreement. See Fed. R. Evid. 702. Rather, Ms. Broadhead offers testimony...

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