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Shelton v. Ritz Carlton Hotel Co.

May 8, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Elaine Shelton is an African American woman employed as a cook at The Ritz Carlton Hotel ("The Ritz") in Washington, D.C. She alleges that she twice applied for a promotion and The Ritz denied her application based on her race and gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f). The Ritz seeks dismissal, claiming that Ms. Shelton must arbitrate. Ms. Shelton opposes. As explained below, the Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part, as the parties' arbitration agreement applies only to one of the alleged incidents of discrimination.


Ms. Shelton began working at The Ritz on 22d Street in Washington, D.C. in September 2000.*fn1 The Ritz operates several departments that employ cooks: an Employee Dining Room, a Banquet Kitchen, the Gardemanger Kitchen, and In Room Dining. The cooking hierarchy in these departments from top down includes an Executive Chef, two Sous Chefs, Cook I, Cook II, and Cook III. Ms. Shelton was hired as a Cook III, and within one month, The Ritz promoted her to the position of Cook II. As a Cook II, Ms. Shelton worked primarily in the Employee Dining Room. Her duties included prepping, cooking, developing menus and recipes, and tracking inventory. Sometimes in the absence of a chef she took a "lead role" in the kitchen. Compl. ¶ 8.

In May 2005, Ms. Shelton applied for an opening as a Cook I in the Banquet Kitchen. The Ritz did not interview her or select her for the position. Instead, The Ritz hired an Hispanic male. Ms. Shelton alleges, "Ritz-Carlton filled the opening with an Hispanic male, an out-of-state candidate who was subsequently forced to resign because of poor work performance." Id. ¶ 10.

In September 2005, Ms. Shelton applied for the position of Cook I in the Gardemanger Kitchen. She alleges that she was the sole applicant for the job. Id. ¶ 11. The Executive Chef, a Caucasian male, told her that as part of the application process she would be required to participate in a tasting test and her food would be judged based on taste, presentation, food temperature, and organizational skills in preparing the meal. The Sous Chef, an Hispanic male, administered the test. He complained that she did not cut the asparagus properly or use the right plate for her presentation. Ms. Shelton alleges that no other applicant for a Cook I position had ever been required to take a tasting test before. The Ritz then withdrew the job posting for the Cook I in the Gardemanger Kitchen. Instead, The Ritz created a new Junior Sous Chef position and hired a white male for the position. Ms. Shelton contends that The Ritz has never hired an African-American as a Cook I at its 22d Street location. Id. ¶ 16.

Ms. Shelton filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC"), alleging that The Ritz denied her promotion to the May 2005 and the September 2005 Cook I positions based on her race and gender. The EEOC investigated and on May 29, 2007, issued a Determination that The Ritz discriminated against Ms. Shelton in violation of Title VII and asked The Ritz to conciliate. The Ritz declined the EEOC's invitation to conciliate, and on July 25, 2007, the EEOC issued a notice of right to sue. Within 90 days, on October 23, 2007, Ms. Shelton filed a Complaint in D.C. Superior Court, alleging a single count of discrimination under Title VII.*fn2

On November 30, 2007, the Ritz removed this suit to federal district court, and now The Ritz seeks dismissal based on lack of jurisdiction, contending that the parties are bound by an agreement to arbitrate. On June 17, 2005, Ms. Shelton had signed an employment agreement. The agreement provides for arbitration of employment-related disputes as follows:

I must request Arbitration if I wish to challenge my termination for any reason or for management decisions that I believe are discriminatory or retaliatory. Arbitration is a process in which my workplace issue is presented to a neutral third party, the arbitrator, for a final and binding decision. The arbitrator, who is provided by the American Arbitration Association ("AAA") runs the privately held proceedings. My Arbitration shall be governed by the AAA's Rules fo Employee Dispute Resolution. . . . .

To apply for Arbitration I must complete an Arbitration Request Form. I will be required to pay a $50.00 fee to contribute to the related expenses. I may consult an attorney or another advisor of my choice to participate in the Arbitration at my own expense. The Arbitrator shall be authorized to award whatever remedies are allowed by law. I may request an Arbitration hearing within one year of the management decision I wish to appeal. I understand that by signing this agreement, I am waiving the ability to file a lawsuit to challenge any termination or management decision that is covered by this Arbitration provision.

Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 1. at 11-12. Ms. Shelton contends that she is not bound by this arbitration provision.


The Ritz seeks dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Because subject matter jurisdiction is an Article III as well as a statutory requirement, "no action of the parties can confer subject[]matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.'" Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003). On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999); see also McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 182-83 (1936).

Because subject matter jurisdiction focuses on the court's power to hear the claim, however, the court must give the plaintiff's factual allegations closer scrutiny when resolving a Rule 12(b)(1) motion than would be required for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 69 (D.C. Cir. 2003). Moreover, the court is not limited to the allegations contained in the complaint. Hohri v. United States, 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds, 482 U.S. 64 (1987). Instead, to determine whether it has ...

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