United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON MOTION TO DISMISS OR COMPEL ARBITRATION
(DOC. NO. 20), CROSS-MOTIONS TO CONFIRM AND VACATE FINAL
ARBITRATION AWARD (DOC. NOS. 34 & 36), AND MOTION TO
AMEND COMPLAINT (DOC. NO. 25)
C. Hall United States District Judge.
case comes before the court pursuant to a Complaint filed by
the plaintiff, Paola Bezek (“Bezek”), against the
defendants, NBC Universal and NBC Sports Group (collectively
“NBC”). See Complaint
(“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1). Bezek, proceeding
pro se, asserts state and federal discrimination
claims arising out of her employment with NBC. See
served with the Complaint on November 6, 2017. See
Acknowledgement of Service (Doc. No. 16). On January 5, 2018,
NBC filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration and Dismiss,
asserting that the claims raised in Bezek's Complaint
were subject to a valid and enforceable arbitration
agreement. See Motion to Compel (Doc. No. 20) at 1.
Bezek objected to NBC's Motion to Compel on February 26,
2018, denying NBC's allegations that she had agreed to
arbitrate claims arising out of her employment. See
Memorandum in Opposition re Motion to Compel
(“Pl.'s Opp.”) (Doc. No. 28) at 11-12. On
March 19, 2018, NBC filed both a Reply to Bezek's
Opposition to their Motion to Compel, see Reply
Memorandum in Support of Motion to Compel (“NBC's
Reply”) (Doc. No. 31), and a Motion for Confirmation of
Final Arbitration Award (“Mot. to Confirm”) (Doc.
No. 34). Bezek filed a Motion to Vacate the Final Arbitration
Award on April 10, 2018. See Motion to Vacate Final
Arbitration Award (“Mot. to Vacate”) (Doc. No.
36). In other words, before the parties finished briefing the
Motion to Compel, a final arbitration award issued in an
arbitration underlying the above-captioned case, which award
the parties have cross-moved to confirm or to vacate.
the same time period, on February 11, 2018, Bezek moved to
amend her Complaint to add claims of libel and slander.
See Motion to Amend (“Mot. to Am.”)
(Doc. No. 25) at 1. NBC filed an opposition to the Motion to
Amend on March 5, 2018. See generally Memorandum in
Opposition (“Opp. to Am.”) (Doc. No. 28).
plaintiff, Paola Bezek, was initially hired by NBC as a
Manager of Shipping and Export Controls in the News Field
Operations Group on October 25, 2010. See Exh. E,
Motion to Compel (“2010 Offer Letter”) (Doc. No.
20-2) at 70-72. From 2010 to 2013, Bezek worked in that
position at an NBC facility in New York City. See
Memorandum in Support of Motion to Compel (“NBC's
Mem.”) at 2. In 2013, Bezek applied for a position with
the NBC Olympics team and was offered the position of Manager
Technical Logistics in the NBC Olympics Production Logistics
Department on June 4, 2013. See Exh. H, Mot. to
Compel (“2013 Offer Letter”) (Doc. No. 20-2) at
77- 78. That division is located in Stamford, Connecticut.
See NBC's Mem. at 2.
the 2010 and 2013 Offer Letters expressly conditioned
Bezek's employment with NBC on her agreeing to be bound
by NBC's alternative dispute resolution program,
“Solutions.” See 2010 Offer Letter
(“This offer is made expressly contingent on your . . .
agreement to be bound by Solutions -- An Alternative Dispute
Resolution Program as evidenced by your signing the Solutions
Agreement Form.”); 2013 Offer Letter (“The
agreements you previously signed regarding Solutions: An
Alternative Dispute Resolution Program . . . shall remain in
full force and effect. . . . If all of the above
contingencies are satisfied, which constitutes your
acceptance of this offer, you will begin your employment on
June 24, 2013.”).
asserts that, in order to accept her new position in 2013,
Bezek was required to open an offer letter email, click on an
acceptance link, and accept three acknowledgements.
See Declaration of Jennifer Rubin, NBC's Reply
(“Rubin Decl.”) (Doc. No. 31) at 18-19. The
second of the three acknowledgements states as follows:
I acknowledge that I have received and reviewed a copy of
“Solutions: an Alternative Dispute Resolution
Procedure” (“Solutions”). I agree to
resolve disputes in accordance with the terms of Solutions
and, accordingly, I waive the right to pursue any Covered
Claims (as defined in Solutions) against the Company (1) in
court or (2) on a class action basis either in court or
Exh. H, Mot. to Compel (“2013 Acceptance”) (Doc.
No. 20-2) at 77-78. NBC further asserts that Bezek would have
had to electronically sign the form by typing her full name
and creating a unique pin with the last four digits of her
Social Security Number and the month and day of her birth.
See Rubin Decl. at 19. Finally, NBC asserts that
Bezek had to click a button on the acceptance form in order
to submit it to human resources. Id. In support of
its position, NBC submits a Declaration of Jennifer Rubin,
Director of Human Resources for the NBC Sports Group, and a
print-out of the acceptance form. See Rubin Decl. at
16; 2013 Acceptance.
states that she does not recall seeing or completing the 2013
Acceptance form, and argues that NBC must have forged the
document attached to their Motion to Compel as Exhibit H,
what the court refers to as the “2013
Acceptance.” See Exh. J, Pl.'s Opp. (Doc.
No. 27) at 51-52. Bezek generally argues that her employment
with NBC was not contingent upon her agreeing to be bound by
Solutions. See Pl.'s Opp. at 11.
further asserts that Bezek completed a mandatory e-learning
training on an updated version of Solutions in January 2011.
In support of that assertion, NBC attaches a print-out of Ms.
Bezek's training history at NBC, which includes a record
that Ms. Bezek completed a course entitled “Solutions
for New Hires, Rehires, and Transfers” on January 10,
2011. Exh. D, Motion to Compel (Doc. No. 20-2) at 39.
Opposition, Bezek states that she “did not train”
and has not seen “any online ‘Solutions Levels by
mediation or Arbitration packet.'” Pl.'s Opp.
at 11. However, in the same paragraph she states, “In
January 2011 [she] took an online HR solutions video.”
attaches a copy of the Solutions manual, dated January 28,
2011, to its Motion to Compel. See Exh. D, Mot. to
Compel (“Solutions Manual”) (Doc. No. 20-2) at
38-68. The Solutions Manual describes the Solutions process
as “a structured dispute resolution procedure that
consists of two internal levels of review followed by, if
necessary and applicable, outside mediation (Level III) and
arbitration (Level IV).” See Solutions Manual
at 40. The Solutions Manual details procedures for all four
levels of dispute resolution, including Level IV,
arbitration. See id. at 54-61. The Solutions Manual
defines “Covered Claims” as “all claims
that arise out of or are related to an employee's
employment or cessation of employment . . ., where a court in
the jurisdiction in question would otherwise have the
authority to hear and resolve the claim under any federal,
state or local . . . statute, regulation or common law,
” including “[c]laims relating to compensation,
promotion, demotion or other employment actions, ”
“[c]laims relating to involuntary terminations, such as
layoffs and discharges, ” and “[e]mployment
discrimination and harassment claims, based on, for example,
age, race, sex, religion, national origin, veteran status,
citizenship, handicap/disability, or other characteristic
protected by law.” Id. at 43.
Solutions Manual also contains a section entitled
“Exclusivity of Arbitration for Covered Claims;
Injunctive Relief; Individual Nature of Covered Claims,
” which section states, “Covered Employees and
the Company are not allowed to litigate a Covered Claim in
any court.” Id. at 45.
addition, the Solutions Manual contains a provision selecting
New York law as governing law. Id. at 48
(“This Agreement shall be construed, interpreted and
applied in accordance with the law of the State of New York,
without regard to choice of law principles.”).
employment with NBC was terminated on October 30, 2015.
See Mot. to Compel at 4; Pl.'s Opp. at 13. On
November 2, 2015, Bezek filed a complaint through
then-counsel at the Boyd Law Group with the Connecticut Human
Rights Office (“CHRO”) and the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). See
Pl.'s Opp. at 13; Mot. to Compel at 5; CHRO-EEOC
Complaint, Compl. (“CHRO Complaint”) (Doc. No. 1)
CHRO Complaint, Bezek alleges that, from December 2012 to
December 2014, she had an “intermittent and
tumultuous” relationship with a man named Fred Espinosa
(“Espinosa”), which involved physical and
emotional abuse and stalking. CHRO Complaint at 18. Bezek
further alleges that, beginning in March 2015 and continuing
through August 2015, Espinosa learned that Bezek had
commenced a relationship with another man, which led him to
start contacting Bezek again, including calling, texting, and
showing up at both her house and her place of employment in
Stamford, Connecticut. Id. Bezek further states in
the CHRO Complaint that, in August 2015, she saw Espinosa at
the security office in the NBC Stamford location and learned
that Espinosa had obtained freelance employment from NBC.
Id. at 18-19. Bezek informed her supervisor and
human resources staff that she was concerned for her safety
and well-being in light of Espinosa's recent conduct and
history. Id. at 19. She was advised to obtain a
restraining order against Espinosa, which she applied for in
Connecticut Superior Court and which application was granted.
Id. NBC then undertook an
“investigation” of the nature and history of the
relationship between Bezek and Espinosa, including requesting
documentation of all communication between Bezek and Espinosa
from Bezek. Id. at 20. Finally, Bezek states in the
CHRO Complaint that her employment was suspended on October
9, 2015, and ultimately terminated on October 30, 2015.
Id. at 21. Bezek alleges that NBC discriminated
against her on the basis of sex and her status as a victim of
domestic violence and retaliated against her. Id. at
2016, counsel from the Boyd Law Group withdrew from
representing Bezek. See Mot. to Compel at 5. On November 6,
2016, new counsel for Bezek-- Axelrod and Associates--sent
counsel for NBC a form entitled “Solutions Issue
Resolution Procedure Level I - Submission Form.”
See Exh. K, Mot. to Compel (“Mediation
Request”) (Doc. No. 20-2) at 88-89. The Mediation
Request form is signed by Bezek under date of October 28,
2016, and requests to “skip Level I and submit
concern(s)/claim(s) initially at Level II.”
Id. at 89. In the cover letter attached to the
Mediation Request form, counsel for Bezek states,
“Please note, we have opted to skip Level I and proceed
to Level II. It would be our preference to skip directly to
Level III (Mediation), if possible.” Id. at
mediation took place pursuant to Solutions Level III on
February 24, 2017, in Connecticut. See Pl.'s
Opp. at 6. Bezek, who relocated to Florida in 2016, appeared
by telephone. See id. at 5-6. That mediation was not
successful. Id. at 7.
22, 2017, counsel for Bezek and NBC sent a letter via email
to the JAMS Resolution Center, which letter stated:
Enclosed please find the employment arbitration demand served
by claimant Paola Bezek on respondent NBC Universal Media,
LLC. The parties are commencing the arbitration pursuant to
Solutions, the alternative dispute resolution procedure to
which the parties agreed during Ms. Bezek's employment
with NBC Universal. A copy of the employment document in
which the parties agreed to resolve dispute via Solutions is
enclosed, as is a copy of the Solutions Procedure.
Exh. M, Mot. to Compel (Doc. No. 20-2) at 98.
asserts that her former counsel at Axelrod and Associates was
not authorized to initiate arbitration with NBC. See
Pl.'s Opp. at 7-8. In support of that argument, Bezek
attaches email correspondence from former counsel at Axelrod
and Associates dated March 30, 3017, which correspondence
states, “I have been tied up all afternoon. I would
like to talk tomorrow early afternoon. Your arbitration
notice is filed. Remember that we have not committed to
future representation at this point.” Exh. C, Pl.'s
Opp. (Doc. No. 27-1) at 7. Based on this correspondence,
Bezek asserts, “It is clear that former counsel made an
error as there was not a valid retainer in place between
plaintiff and his law firm to move forward with
Arbitration.” Pl.'s Opp. at 7-8.
1, 2017, an attorney from Axelrod and Associates sent an
email to JAMS and counsel for NBC notifying them that Axelrod
and Associates was no longer representing Bezek in the
matter. See Exh. N, Mot. to Compel (Doc. No. 20-2)
August 9, 2017, a JAMS case manager sent Bezek and counsel
for NBC a notice entitled “Commencement of Employment
Arbitration.” Exh. E, Pl.'s Opp. (Doc. No. 27-1) at
14-15. That document included a list of proposed arbitrators.
See id. Counsel for NBC reached out to Bezek
suggesting retired judge Anthony J. Carpinello for the
matter. See id. at 13. On August 16, 2017, Bezek
emailed the JAMS case manager, stating as follows:
I had emailed [counsel for NBC] ¶ 8/14 to pause this
commencement . . . as this is something they have chosen to
[sic] forward with not me. I have not consent any
commencement, sign any sort of documentation to move forward,
therefore NBC Universal/Sports should not assume any
commencement or process regarding my complaint.
. . . . As I mentioned before, I have [sic] given [sic] the
right to sue therefore I have submitted my complaint to the
CT Federal Court.
Exh. F, Pl.'s Opp. (Doc. No. 27-1) at 17.
preliminary hearing, by conference call, was scheduled for
November 20, 2017. Bezek emailed a JAMS employee on November
16, 2017, to inform JAMS that she did not consent to
arbitration and did not intend to participate in the
conference call. See Exh. I, Pl.'s Opp. (Doc.
No. 27-1) at 28. The preliminary hearing went forward on
November 20, 2017. See Exh. H, Pl.'s Opp. (Doc.
No. 27-1) at 23-26. Counsel for NBC was present, but Bezek
was not. See id.
additional hearings were held in the arbitration. On November
20, 2017, NBC filed a Motion for Summary Disposition, to
which Bezek did not respond. See Final Arbitration
Award, Mot. to Compel (Doc. No. 34) at 4-10. On February 8,
2018, Arbitrator Mark Segall (“Arbitrator
Segall”) issued a final arbitration award (the
“Award”) granting the Motion for Summary
Disposition filed by NBC and dismissing all claims in the
arbitration. See id. at 8.
30, 2017, Bezek filed a Complaint in the above-captioned
case. See Compl. (Doc. No. 1). The Complaint is
identical to the Specification of Claims submitted in the
underlying arbitration, except that the date of submission is
different and the damages analyses differ slightly.
Compare Compl. with Exh. B, Mot. to Compel
(Doc. No. 20-2) at 16-26. Like the CHRO Complaint described
above, Bezek alleges state and federal claims of
discrimination on the basis of sex and her status as a victim
of domestic violence as well as retaliation.
MOTIONS TO CONFIRM AND VACATE ARBITRATION AWARD (DOC. NOS. 34
moves to confirm the Award issued by Arbitrator Segall on
February 8, 2018, and Bezek moves to vacate that Award.
See Mot. to Confirm (Doc. No. 34); Mot. to Vacate
(Doc. No. 36). NBC moves pursuant to section 9 of the FAA,
title 9 section 9 of the United States Code, which provides
that, within one year of the issuance of an arbitration
award, “any party to the arbitration” may apply
for confirmation of that award and the court
“must grant such an order unless the award is
vacated, modified, or corrected as prescribed in section 10
and 11 of [the FAA].” 9 U.S.C. § 9 (emphasis
added). As this language reflects, the court must grant
NBC's Motion to Confirm unless it grants Bezek's
Motion to Vacate.
moves to vacate the Award pursuant to section 10 of the FAA,
title 9 section 10 of the United States Code. See
generally Mot. to Vacate. Section 10 of the FAA provides
that awards may be vacated under the following circumstances:
(1) where the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or
(2) where there was evident partiality or corruption in the