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Smith v. JRK Residential Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 8, 2018



          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         Pro se Plaintiff, Ashley Smith, sued her former employer, JRK Residential Group, Inc. (“JRK”), for wrongful termination. Smith alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, C.G.S. §§ 46a-60(a)(1) and 46a-60(a)(4) (“CFEPA”). Specifically, Smith alleges that she was discriminated against because of her sex and Christian lifestyle and that she was wrongfully terminated. JRK moves to stay litigation and compel arbitration of the claims, based on a Mediation and Arbitration Agreement signed by Smith and JRK.

         For the following reasons, JRK's motion to compel arbitration and stay this action is hereby GRANTED.

         II. Background

         The following recitation of the facts is taken from Smith's complaint, along with the exhibits attached to the parties' briefs JRK is an affiliated entity of JRK Property Holdings, Inc. (ECF No. 14-2 at ¶ 3, 5). On November 23, 2015, JRK hired Smith as the leasing agent for Century Hills Apartments-a 544-unit multi-family property in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. (ECF No. 14-1 at 2; ECF No. 1-1 at ¶¶ 2-6). Three weeks later, JRK terminated Smith's employment. (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 41). The parties part ways on the reason for Smith's termination. Smith claims that JRK terminated her based on her sex and religious beliefs in violation of Title VII and CFEPA. (Id. at ¶ 16, 50-51, 59, 60). JRK claims Smith was terminated due to unsatisfactory performance. (ECF No. 14-1 at 2).

         Upon her hiring, Smith signed JRK Property Holdings, Inc.'s Mediation and Arbitration Agreement (“Agreement”). (ECF No. 14-2, Ex. A at 7 (“The Agreement”)). The Agreement provided in relevant part that the parties “agreed to use mediation and binding arbitration as the exclusive forums for resolving the disputes and claims covered by this Agreement.” Id. The Agreement covered “[a]ny claim that could be asserted in court . . . for which the employee has an alleged cause of action, including without limitation the following claims: . . . (b) tort, (c) discrimination including, but not limited to, discrimination based on sex . . . [and] religion . . ., (d) wrongful discharge, . . . and/or (g) violation of any federal, state or other governmental law, statute, regulation or ordinance, and whether based on statute or common law.” Id. at 8. The Agreement also covered “[c]laims made against JRK [Property Holdings Inc.]” or “any of its subsidiary or affiliated entities . . . .” Id.

         Following Smith's termination, she filed this action against JRK in Connecticut Superior Court, alleging two counts of wrongful termination arising out of alleged violations of Title VII and CFEPA. (See ECF No. 1-1). JRK subsequently removed the case to this Court, (see ECF No. 1), and filed this motion to compel. (ECF No. 14).

         III. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) provides that “a written provision . . . in 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. The Supreme Court has held that the FAA “establishes a national policy favoring arbitration when the parties contract for that mode of dispute resolution.” Preston v. Ferrer, 552 U.S. 346, 349 (2008); see also Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20, 25 (1991) (holding that the FAA “manifest[s] a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Under Section 4 of the FAA, a court must compel arbitration if it finds that there has been a “‘failure, neglect, or refusal' of any party to honor the agreement to arbitrate.” Phillips v. Cigna Invs., 27 F.Supp.2d 345, 349 (D. Conn. 1998) (quoting 9 U.S.C. §4). Further, the Second Circuit has echoed the Supreme Court's recognition of the FAA's policy favoring the strict enforcement of arbitration agreements, instructing that “any analysis of a party's challenge to the enforcement of an arbitration agreement must begin by recognizing the FAA's strong policy in favor of rigorously enforcing arbitration agreements.” Doctors Assocs. v. Hamilton, 150 F.3d 157, 162 (2d Cir. 1998).

         To determine whether parties are compelled to arbitrate, courts consider four factors: “(1) whether the parties agreed to arbitrate; (2) the scope o[f] the arbitration agreement; (3) whether, if federal statutory claims are asserted, Congress intended those claims to be nonarbitrable; and (4) whether, if some but not all of the claims in the case are arbitrable, the case should be stayed pending arbitration.” McCallister v. Conn. Renaissance Inc., 496 Fed. App'x 104, 106 (2d Cir. 2012). Finally, the party seeking to compel arbitration bears the “burden of demonstrating by a preponderance of the evidence the existence of an agreement to arbitrate.” Helenese v. Oracle Corp., No. 3:09-cv-351 (CFD), 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15071, at *8 (D. Conn. Feb 19, 2010).

         B. Smith Must Arbitrate Her Claims Against JRK

         The FAA governs the Agreement because the Agreement involves a written provision regarding a transaction involving commerce. See 9 U.S.C. § 2. The employment transaction in this Agreement involves commerce because JRK owns and operates residential facilities in ten states, occasionally assigns employees to work in multiple states, and purchases supplies for its business from a variety of states. (ECF No. 14-1 at ...

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