Lee v. Engel Burman Grande Care at Jericho, LLC, 20-CV-3093 (RPK) (RER)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
Writing for the CourtRACHEL P. KOVNER United States District Judge
Docket Number20-CV-3093 (RPK) (RER)
Decision Date23 August 2021

YOUNG J. LEE, Plaintiff,


No. 20-CV-3093 (RPK) (RER)

United States District Court, E.D. New York

August 23, 2021


RACHEL P. KOVNER United States District Judge

Plaintiff Young J. Lee filed this action raising claims of sexual harassment and discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and New York State Executive Law § 296 et seq. against former employers Engel Burman Grande Care at Jericho, LLC (“Engel”), Ultimate Care Assisted Living Management, LLC (“Ultimate”), and Timothy Mularchuk. Defendants have moved to dismiss the action and compel arbitration of plaintiff's claims. For the reasons set out below, defendants' motion to compel arbitration is granted. The motion to dismiss is denied and the action is stayed pending the outcome of arbitration.


The following facts are taken from the complaint and documents that were submitted by both parties in connection with defendants' motion to compel arbitration. Beginning in July 2019, plaintiff was employed by Engel and Ultimate as an event planner at an assisted living facility. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 36-40 (Dkt. #10). At the time of her hiring, plaintiff signed the last page of a “Dispute Resolution Agreement.” See Lee Aff. ¶ 7 (Dkt. #20-2); Decl. of Keith Gutstein at 4-6 (“Gutstein Decl.”) (Dkt. #18).

The first page of the Dispute Resolution Agreement states, “This is an agreement between [blank] and The Bristal at [blank]. Both parties agree today, [blank] to abide by the following dispute resolution procedure for any covered claims that either of us have against the other arising from my employment.” Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.'s Br.”) Ex. 4 at 1 (“Dispute Resolution Agreement”) (Dkt. #20-4). The first and second pages of the agreement state that The Bristal “offers a procedure” for dispute resolution: if an employee raises a complaint with company managers but is unsatisfied with the final written decision, the employee may submit her complaint “to be heard by an independent arbitrator.” Id. at 1-2. The second page further provides that “[t]o be eligible for arbitration, [an employee's] complaint must be based on employment discrimination, harassment involving any Team Member of The Bristal, a wage or hour violation, or other claim under law arising from [the claimant's] employment.” Id. at 2. It defines “arbitration” as “the settlement of a dispute by one or more independent persons who are chosen by [the employee] and The Bristal to hear both sides of the complaint and then come to a decision.” Ibid. It states that an employee “may choose to opt out of the arbitration provisions.” Ibid.

The third page of the Dispute Resolution Agreement states that the employee “will not have to pay anything toward the arbitration filing fee. The Bristal will pay the filing fee and the arbitrator's expenses.” Id. at 3. The last page includes the statement, “If I do not opt out of the arbitration provisions of the [agreement], I waive my right to have my case submitted to a court of law and decided by a judge or jury.” Id. at 4. At the end of the last page, just above two lines for signatures, is the statement, “After reviewing this information, and receiving answers to my quest[ions], I voluntarily agree to The Bristal's Dispute Resolution Policy.” Ibid.

At the end of the last page of the agreement are two signature lines. Ibid. The first is labeled “Team Member's Signature” and is signed by plaintiff. Ibid. The second is labeled “Witness's Signature” and is signed by Andrea Rivera. Ibid.

An August 2019 paycheck to plaintiff lists the payor as “Engel Burman Grande Care at Jericho LLC DBA The Bristal Grand.” Pl.'s Br. Ex. 1 (“Paycheck”) (Dkt. #20-1).

Lee alleges that, beginning in December 2019, her general manager at Ultimate, Timothy Mularchuk, subjected her to sexually inappropriate comments and touching. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2731, 41-49. According to the complaint, in January 2020, plaintiff made a formal written complaint of sexual harassment to her employers. Id. ¶ 50. Plaintiff then “attended an uncomfortable meeting” with Mularchuk and a “mediating regional director, ” whose conduct “further escalated Plaintiff's anxiety.” Id. ¶ 51. Plaintiff alleges that she “was constructively discharged” from her position in February 2020 after her employers failed to take her complaints seriously. Id. ¶ 53.

Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. See id. ¶¶ 32-35. She then filed this lawsuit, alleging discrimination and sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and New York State Executive Law § 296. See Compl. (Dkt. #1). She later filed the operative amended complaint. See Am. Compl. Defendants have moved to dismiss the amended complaint and compel arbitration. See generally Mem. of L. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.' Br.”) (Dkt. #19).


Courts in this circuit commonly construe a motion to dismiss based on an arbitration clause as a motion to compel arbitration. See Nicosia v. Amazon.com, Inc., 834 F.3d 220, 230 (2d Cir. 2016); Wabtec Corp. v. Faiveley Transp. Malmo AB, 525 F.3d 135, 139-40 (2d Cir. 2008); see also, e.g., Gilbert v. Indeed, Inc., 513 F.Supp.3d 374, 390 (S.D.N.Y. 2021); Begonja v. Vornado Realty Tr., 159 F.Supp.3d 402, 405 n.1 (S.D.N.Y. 2016).

When deciding a motion to compel arbitration, courts apply a “standard similar to that applicable for a motion for summary judgment.” Meyer v. Uber Techs., Inc., 868 F.3d 66, 74 (2d Cir. 2017) (quotations omitted); see Gonder v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 144 F.Supp.3d 522, 525 (S.D.N.Y. 2015). On such a motion, “the court consider[s] all relevant, admissible evidence submitted by the parties and contained in pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.” Meyer, 868 F.3d at 74 (quotations omitted). A trial is necessary “[i]f there is an issue of fact as to the making of the agreement for arbitration, ” but “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.” Nicosia, 834 F.3d at 229 (citations omitted).


Under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), a “written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction . . . shall be 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. This provision “establishes a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements.” CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood, 565 U.S. 95, 98 (2012); see Arciniaga v. Gen. Motors Corp., 460 F.3d 231, 234 (2d Cir. 2006) (“[I]t is difficult to overstate the strong federal policy in favor of arbitration[.]”).

The “party to an arbitration agreement seeking to avoid arbitration generally bears the burden of showing the agreement to be inapplicable or invalid.” Harrington v. Atl. Sounding Co., 602 F.3d 113, 124 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Green Tree Fin. Corp.-Ala. v. Randolph, 531 U.S. 79, 91-92 (2000)). Plaintiff seeks to avoid arbitration here on the grounds that (1) she did not assent to the agreement that defendants invoke; (2) defendants are not parties to the agreement; (3) the agreement is unconscionable; and (4) her state-law claims are not subject to arbitration. As explained below, plaintiff's arguments lack merit.

I. The parties entered into an arbitration agreement.

Plaintiff first asserts that she did not enter into an agreement to arbitrate. In determining whether parties agreed to arbitrate, courts look to “state contract law principles.” Abdullayeva v. Attending Home Care Servs. LLC, 928 F.3d 218, 222 (2d Cir. 2019); see Schnabel v. Trilegiant Corp., 697 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 2012). The parties agree that New York law provides the contract-law principles that are relevant in this case. See Defs.' Br. at 4; Pl.'s Br. at 7 (Dkt. #20). Under New York law, “agreements must be ‘construed in accord with the parties' intent.'” Abdullayeva, 928 F.3d at 222 (quoting Greenfield v. Philles Records, Inc., 780 N.E.2d 166, 170 (N.Y. 2002)). “The terms of an agreement provide the best evidence of what the parties intend, and ‘a written agreement that is complete, clear[, ] and unambiguous on its face must be enforced according to the plain meaning of its terms.'” Ibid. (quoting Greenfield, 780 N.E.2d at 170). The formation of an enforceable agreement requires, among other things, “mutual assent.” Kowalchuk v. Stroup, 61 A.D.3d 118, 121 (N.Y.App.Div. 2009). Plaintiff suggests that she did not assent to the terms of the agreement. See Pl.'s Br. at 6-7. She states that she “was rushed to sign many documents at the time of [her] hire” and that nobody explained that she was “waiving important rights or otherwise agreeing to arbitrate any potential employment discrimination issue.” Lee Aff ¶ 7.

Plaintiff's arguments are inadequate to vitiate the consent evidenced by her signature. Under New York law, “a party who signs a written contract is conclusively presumed to know its contents and to assent to them, and [s]he is therefore bound by its terms and conditions.” Patterson v. Raymours Furniture Co., 96 F.Supp.3d 71, 76 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (citing Level Exp. Corp. v. Wolz, Aiken & Co., 111 N.E.2d 218, 221 (N.Y. 1953)), aff'd, 659 Fed.Appx. 40 (2d Cir. 2016); see Abreu v. Fairway Mkt. LLC, No. 17-CV-9532, 2018 WL 3579107, at *2...

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