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EMERONYE v. CACI INTERN.

April 17, 2001

CHARITY EMERONYE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CACI INTERNATIONAL, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Huvelle, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before the Court is defendant's motion to dismiss, plaintiffs opposition, and defendant's reply. Plaintiff Charity Emeronye filed this suit against her former employer, CACI International, Inc., alleging discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Plaintiff contends that she was denied promotions because of her race and/or national origin, and that her employer engaged in retaliatory conduct. Defendant moves to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), arguing that under plaintiffs employment agreement her discrimination claims are subject to mandatory arbitration and cannot be pursued in this Court. In response, plaintiff argues that: (1) the Federal Arbitration Act. 9 U.S.C. § 1, et seq., ("FAA"), Does not apply to employment contracts; (2) the employment contract was an adhesion contract that plaintiff did not assent to; (3) the contract here does not contain a clear waiver of statutory rights; and (4) under the FAA, a court can stay a case pending arbitration, but cannot dismiss. The Court finds that the parties' dispute is covered by the Employment Agreement. thus subject to mediation and then binding arbitration, and that this arbitration provision is enforceable. Accordingly, defendant's motion to dismiss and to compel arbitration is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a Nigerian female with a law degree from the University of London and an L.L.M. degree from DePaul University, majoring in health law. Plaintiff began working for defendant in May 1997 as a "temporary coder." On August 6, 1997, defendant offered plaintiff a permanent position as a paralegal. The offer letter, which was signed by both plaintiff and defendant, requested that plaintiff return a signed copy of the standard "Employee Agreement," which was attached. Def. Reply Ex. A. The offer letter also stated that "[y]our signature on [the Employee Agreement] acknowledges your understanding of the requirements contained therein and your agreement to abide by them." Id. Plaintiff signed the Employee Agreement on August 6, 1997. This two page agreement provides in relevant part that:

Any controversy or claim arising out of, or relating to this Agreement, or its breach, or otherwise arising out of' or relating to my CACI employment (including without limitation to any claim of discrimination whether based on race, color, . . . [or] national origin . . . or any other legally protected status, and whether based on federal or State law, or otherwise] shall be settled first by resort to mediation by CACI's Ombudsman and then, if mediation fails to resolve the matter, by arbitration. This arbitration shall be held . . . in accordance with . . . arbitration procedures of the American Arbitration Association. Judgment upon award rendered by the arbitrator shall be binding upon both parties and may be entered and enforced in any court of competent jurisdiction.

Def. Mot. Ex. A ¶ 11.

Plaintiff thereafter began work as a paralegal. Plaintiff alleges that in late 1997, her supervisor, a white female, began a course of disparate treatment toward her because of her race (black) and national origin (African/Nigerian). Between March and October 1998, plaintiff applied for several open "senior paralegal" and "supervisory paralegal" positions that she alleges she was qualified for. Plaintiff contends that she was denied these promotions as a result of discrimination, and was retaliated against after filing an EEO complaint with CACI's EEO Office in August 1999. Plaintiff filed this suit against defendant on September 21, 2000, claiming violations of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

I. The Federal Arbitration Act Applies to Employment Contracts

Plaintiff initially argued that the FAA*fn1 does not apply to employment contracts, under the exclusion set forth in Section 1, which provides that "contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce" are excluded from the Act's coverage. 9 U.S.C. § 1. Plaintiff' argued that employment contracts fall within the category of "workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce" and therefore are not covered by the FAA. Plaintiff concedes, however, that after the f)resent motion was filed, the Supreme Court rejected such a broad interpretation of the exclusion in Circuit City v. Adams, ___ U.S. ___, 121 S.Ct. 1302, 149 L.Ed.2d 234 (2001), stating that "We now decide that the better interpretation is to construe the statute . . . to confine the exemption to transportation workers." Id. at 1306. See also Cole v. Burns Int'l Sec. Servs., 105 F.3d 1465, 1470 (D.C.Cir. 1997) ("We hold that section 1 of the FAA does not exclude all contracts of employment that affect commerce."). Therefore, as plaintiff must now admit, her employment agreement is within the scope of the FAA.

II. The Arbitration Clause is Enforceable

Plaintiff also contends that the arbitration clause is not enforceable because 1) the Employee Agreement was a contract of adhesion to which she did not assent, and 2) she cannot waive her statutory rights in the absence of a clear and explicit waiver, which the Agreement did not contain.

Plaintiff argues that there was no agreement to arbitrate because there was no "meeting of the minds" as to the arbitration clause. Plaintiff contends that at the commencement of her employment she was presented with a number of forms to sign, that she does not recall signing the Employee Agreement or having discussions with anyone at CACI about the agreement, does not recall agreeing to arbitration, and does not recall reading the arbitration policy or having a copy given to her. Emeronye Decl. ¶¶ 3-6.*fn2 None of these claims renders the arbitration clause unenforceable.

The court in Maye v. Smith Barney, Inc., 897 F. Supp. 100 (S.D.N.Y. 1995), rejected similar claims in ruling that the arbitration agreement at issue was enforceable. Plaintiffs in Maye alleged that during a two-hour orientation meeting with 28 other new employees they were asked to sign their names to documents approximately 75 times, that no one explained the contents of the documents to them, and that they did not have an adequate opportunity to read most of them. Id. at 106. In particular, no one pointed out the arbitration clause in the documents they signed. Id. The court found that because applicable state law provided that one who signs a written contract is conclusively presumed to know and assent to its contents, absent fraud or coercion, plaintiffs' signatures were sufficient to render the agreements enforceable. Id. at 108.*fn3 See also Beauchamp v. Great West Life Assur. Co., 918 F. Supp. 1091, 1097 (E.D.Mich. 1996) (upholding arbitration agreement because "[i]t is well settled that ...


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