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Lasseigne v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 5, 2017

MARY LASSEIGNE
v.
STERLING JEWELERS, INC.

         SECTION I

          ORDER AND REASONS

          LANCE M. AFRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the defendant's motion[1] to dismiss or to compel arbitration. The Court held two evidentiary hearings in connection with the motion. Having now considered the evidence adduced at those hearings, as well as the appropriate standard of law, the Court grants the motion and compels arbitration.

         I.

         Mary Lasseigne is a Caucasian female. She was hired as a sales associate by Sterling Jewelers, Inc. d/b/a Jared the Galleria of Jewelry (“Sterling”) in February 2014. Lasseigne worked for Sterling until June 2015, when she claims that she was constructively discharged due to her race. According to the complaint, Lasseigne's manager Latoya Washington-an African-American female-discriminated against white employees like Lasseigne, habitually speaking to them in a demeaning manner and affording preferential treatment to black employees. Although Lasseigne allegedly complained repeatedly about the discrimination to her district manager and to human resources, she alleges that nothing was ever done to address the problem.

         Lasseigne filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after she left Sterling. In July 2016, the EEOC found Lasseigne's claims of racial discrimination against Washington and Sterling to be substantiated. On September 13, 2016, Lasseigne received a right-to-sue letter. She filed this lawsuit on December 7, 2016, alleging that Sterling's actions violated Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Louisiana state law.

         Sterling immediately filed the present motion to dismiss or stay and compel arbitration pursuant to its employment agreement with Lasseigne. Sterling argues that upon being hired, all of its employees-including Lasseigne-must sign an agreement to resolve employment-related disputes through the “RESOLVE Program.”

         According to Sterling, the RESOLVE Program is a three-step alternative dispute resolution program with the final step being mandatory arbitration. On their first day of work, new Sterling employees log into Sterling's human resources system and begin an electronic onboarding process. The process requires the employees to access a number of mandatory screens addressing various human resources topics. Among the subjects the employee must review is Sterling's RESOLVE Program. The employee clicks on a link which opens a page summarizing the RESOLVE Program agreement. The page instructs the employee to “click the following link to review the RESOLVE Program” agreement in its entirety. See R. Doc. No. 7-3, at 4. At the bottom of the page, the employee must enter her electronic signature signifying that “I acknowledge that I have read, understand, and agree to the terms and conditions established in the RESOLVE Program Arbitration Agreement.” See R. Doc. No. 7-3, at 4. The employee may not proceed past that point in the onboarding process until he or she reviews the RESOLVE Program and clicks on the link signifying the employee's agreement to it.

         In support of its motion, Sterling submitted computer records evidencing Lasseigne's electronic signature agreeing to the terms and conditions of the RESOLVE Program. The records show that Lasseigne's electronic signature was provided at 2:47pm on February 24, 2014-Lasseigne's first day of work. Sterling explained that an employee's electronic signature cannot be entered without first entering a personal code which only the employee knows. The computer records the amount of time spent at each step of the onboarding process. According to the records, Lasseigne spent thirty seconds on the page displaying the RESOLVE Program agreement.

         In a declaration attached to her opposition, Lasseigne claimed that she “never completed the computer portion of my orientation” because her “login procedure was ineffective.” See R. Doc. No. 12-2. She instead asserted that “Keenan Goldsmith, the general manager of my store, actually completed the computer portion of my initial employee processing.” See R. Doc. No. 12-2. Lasseigne also submitted declarations from other former Sterling sales associates-and an assistant general manager-in which they claimed never to have been made aware of the RESOLVE Program and not to have knowingly agreed to participate in the RESOLVE Program. She argued that she could not be forced to participate in the Program because she did not sign the agreement and she was never made aware of the Program.

         II.

         The Court held two evidentiary hearings. In addition to testifying herself at the hearings, Lasseigne called to testify each of the former Sterling employees who had submitted declarations in support of her opposition. At the Court's direction, Keenan Goldsmith, the general manager who guided Lasseigne through the electronic onboarding process, was called to testify. The only witness called by Sterling was Jamie Broadhead, the Director of Human Resources for Sterling.

         Each of the former Sterling employees called to testify by Lasseigne-Thomas Mancil, Shana Johnson, George Peralta, and Patsy LaRive-did not remember the RESOLVE Program. However, when confronted with their signatures, none of the witnesses denied that they had signed the arbitration agreement. Neither did any of the witnesses deny that they had been afforded an opportunity to read all of the documents with which they were presented during the onboarding process.[2]

         Lasseigne testified that her memory of the onboarding process as a whole was not sharp, though she was certain that she and Mr. Goldsmith switched chairs at least once at the beginning of the onboarding process in order to allow him to fix a computer problem.[3] Although Lasseigne was initially adamant that she neither saw nor signed the RESOLVE agreement during her onboarding process, her subsequent testimony revealed that Lasseigne did not remember many of the documents with which she was presented during the onboarding process.[4] When Lasseigne was questioned about the sworn statement she had submitted in connection with her opposition, she admitted that several of the assertions in the statement-which was not prepared by Lasseigne but rather by her counsel-were not entirely accurate. She admitted, for example, that the declaration's statement that “During my onboarding process I never completed the computer portion of my orientation, ” was not true.[5] She also clarified that although her declaration stated that “Keenan Goldsmith, the general manager of my store, actually completed the computer portion of my initial employee processing, ” what she meant was that Mr. Goldsmith used the computer at some point during the beginning of her onboarding process.[6] Lasseigne conceded that she had completed at least part of the computer portion.[7]

         Ultimately, Lasseigne simply could not remember those portions of the electronic onboarding process in which Mr. Goldsmith may have participated.[8] She was certain, however, that Mr. Goldsmith never instructed her not to read certain documents during the onboarding process and that Mr. Goldsmith never shielded any documents from her view during the process.[9]

         Mr. Goldsmith, although he was unable to remember conducting the onboarding with Lasseigne specifically, was able to elucidate why it may have been necessary for him to use the computer during Lasseigne's electronic onboarding process. He testified:

Q. Okay. Do you remember the -- do you remember anything about Mary Lasseigne's on-boarding process at all?
A. No. I remember I did it, but I don't remember all the specifics of it.
Q. Do you remember there being any issue with the logging-in procedure with respect to Mary?
A. Not specifically with respect to her. But I can say with the new on- boarding process that we had with the computer system, we would get kicked off a lot. There were several passwords that you had to put in, so a lot of times you'd have to stop to go and get the information that you needed password-wise and come back to fill in the information.

R. Doc. No. 20, at 6:12-6:23. Later, when confronted with the question of whether he might sometimes enter information during an employee's onboarding process which was supposed to be entered by the employee, Mr. Goldsmith testified:

Q. And you didn't complete any portion of the on-boarding other than what you were required to complete, that being the I-9 and then the payroll information?
A. Correct.
Q. So you wouldn't go through and acknowledge any policies that were presented to the new employee during the on-boarding process?
A. No. That would be a big no-no.
THE COURT: Let me ask you something. Let me get to the meat of this, if I can. In your entire career as a general manager -- this is Judge Africk. [Mr. Goldsmith testified by telephone at the agreement of the parties].
THE WITNESS: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: -- a general manager at Jared, did you ever electronically sign a new hire's name to a document on the computer during the on-boarding process?
THE WITNESS: No, sir. That would be against company policy.
THE COURT: And did you ever complete any portion of the on-boarding process which was required to be ...

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