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Wheeler v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

December 14, 2017

STEPHANIE WHEELER
v.
DOLLAR TREE STORES, INC.

          JAMES JUDGE.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PATRICK J. HANNA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Currently pending is the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint and compel arbitration. (Rec. Doc. 6). The motion is opposed. (Rec. Doc. 13). The motion was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the standing orders of this Court.

         Upon initial review of the motion, this Court deferred ruling, ordered the parties to conduct limited discovery, and ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefs. (Rec. Doc. 16). The parties complied with this Court's order and submitted additional briefing. (Rec. Docs. 19, 20). Following review of the parties' supplemental briefs, this Court held an evidentiary hearing on October 30, 2017. The parties submitted evidence along with their briefs, and they also presented testamonial evidence at the hearing. Because the evidence goes beyond the scope of the allegations set forth in the plaintiff's original and first supplemental and amended petitions for damages, this Court converted the motion to dismiss and to compel arbitration into a motion for summary judgment and afforded the parties an opportunity to submit any supplemental briefs or exhibits they believed necessary to support or oppose the motion for summary judgment. (Rec. Doc. 26). This Court also ordered the plaintiff to deliver to chambers the originals of the two declarations that the plaintiff submitted in support of her opposition brief. (Rec. Doc. 26). The defendants filed a supplemental brief (Rec. Doc 28) but the plaintiff did not submit additional exhibits or a supplemental brief within the time allotted. Furthermore, the plaintiff did not comply with this Court's order requiring the originals of her declarations to be delivered to chambers. Instead, claiming that she misplaced the original of “a document entitled Declaration of Stephanie Wheeler” that she “received” on or about August 3, 2017, the plaintiff submitted a new declaration, in which she stated that she went to her lawyer's office on November 7, 2017, and again signed the two previous declarations, both of which remain dated August 3, 2017. The new declaration is dated November 7, 2017. The new declaration and the two admittedly post-dated declarations were filed in the record. (Rec. Doc. 29).

         Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, it is recommended that the defendant's motion for summary judgment, seeking to enforce an arbitration agreement between the parties, be granted.

         Background

         This is an employment discrimination lawsuit. In her original petition for damages, the plaintiff alleged that she is an African-American woman who was employed by the defendant, Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., and was told by her supervisor that she would not be promoted to a store manager's position because there were already too many African-American managers working for the company. She also alleged that she was required by her employer to work “off the clock.” She claimed that she was suspended from her employment on an unspecified date and then terminated on August 15, 2016, allegedly in retaliation for having complained about being mistreated because of her race. After filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC and receiving a right to sue letter, she filed this lawsuit, asserting claims under Louisiana's Employment Discrimination Law, La. R.S. 23:301, et seq. In her first amending and supplemental petition for damages, the plaintiff asserted a claim for the deliberate underpayment of wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq.

         In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged that she began working for the defendant in June 2015 as a cashier. (Rec. Doc. 1-1 at 6). She also alleged that, in May 2016, she applied for a store manager's position and passed the examination necessary for promotion to that position. (Rec. Doc. 1-1 at 7). After being denied promotion to a management position and after being required to work “off the clock, ” the plaintiff allegedly told her supervisors that she believed she was being treated unfairly because of her race. (Rec. Doc. 1-1 at 7). She alleged that the defendant first suspended her and then, on August 15, 2016, terminated her employment. (Rec. Doc. 1-1 at 7).

         The defendant responded to the plaintiff's complaint with the instant motion, contending that, on December 8, 2015, the plaintiff signed an enforceable arbitration agreement, which requires that the claims asserted in the plaintiff's complaint must be resolved by means of arbitration rather than through litigation of this lawsuit. The defendant seeks to compel arbitration and have this lawsuit dismissed. In response, the plaintiff denied that she ever signed an arbitration agreement.

         Law and Analysis

         A. The Standard for Resolving a Motion for Summary Judgment

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the applicable governing law.[1] A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could render a verdict for the nonmoving party.[2]

         The party seeking summary judgment has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that demonstrate the absence of genuine issues of material fact.[3] If the moving party carries its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of a material fact.[4] All facts and inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[5]

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by pointing out that there is insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.[6] The motion should be granted if the nonmoving party cannot produce evidence to support an essential element of its claim.[7]

         When both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts, a court is bound to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.[8] The court cannot make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence, and the nonmovant cannot meet his burden with unsubstantiated assertions, conclusory allegations, or a scintilla of evidence.[9] “When all of the summary judgment evidence presented by both parties could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial and summary judgment is proper.”[10]

         Interpretations of statutory provisions that are dispositive and raise only questions of law, there being no contest as to the operative facts, are particularly appropriate for summary judgment.[11]

         B. The Standard for Compelling the Enforcement of an Arbitration Agreement

         Arbitration is favored under Louisiana law[12] and also under federal law.[13] In fact, there is a strong presumption in favor of arbitration, and the burden is on the party challenging the arbitration agreement to show that it is invalid.[14] The agreement at issue in this case expressly states that it is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). Therefore, this Court finds that the FAA is applicable to the agreement at issue. The FAA requires the enforcement of arbitration agreements through the issuance of an order directing the parties to engage in arbitration and staying the litigation of disputes that are referable to arbitration.[15]

         The Fifth Circuit developed a two-prong inquiry for deciding whether parties should be compelled to arbitrate their disputes.[16] The first prong requires a court to determine whether the parties agreed to arbitrate.[17] Two factors are considered in making this determination: (1) whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists between the parties; and (2) whether the dispute in question is within the scope of the arbitration agreement.[18] In determining whether there is a valid arbitration agreement between the parties, courts apply state contract law.[19] In determining whether a question falls within the scope of an arbitration agreement, courts apply the federal policy favoring arbitration.[20] Once a court finds that the parties agreed to arbitrate, it must move to the second prong of the analysis and consider whether any federal statute or policy renders the claim nonarbitrable.[21]

         The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) provides for a stay pending arbitration.[22]A court, however, may dismiss an action with prejudice, rather than stay it, when all claims are subject to arbitration.[23] This is so because “[a]ny postarbitration remedies sought by the parties will not entail renewed consideration and adjudication of the merits by the controversy but would be circumscribed to a judicial review of the arbitrator's award in the limited manner prescribed by law.”[24]

         C. An Arbitration Agreement Exists

         The defendant contends that the plaintiff electronically signed a “Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate Claims” on December 8, 2015. A copy of the agreement was submitted along with the declaration of the ...


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