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Ryan v. Buckleysandler, LLP

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 25, 2014

MATTHEW J. RYAN, Plaintiff,
BUCKLEYSANDLER, LLP, et al., Defendant

Page 141

MATTHEW J. RYAN, Plaintiff, Pro se, Friendship Heights, MD.

For BUCKLEYSANDLER, L.L.P., KIRK JENSEN, ELIZABETH MCGINN, Defendants: Christopher A. Weals, LEAD ATTORNEY, MORGAN, LEWIS & BOCKIUS, Washington, DC; Andrew G. Sakallaris, MORGAN, LEWIS & BOCKIUS LLP, Washington, DC.

Page 142


BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge.

The plaintiff, a pro se attorney, brings this action against his former employer, BuckleySandler LLP and several of its employees, alleging age discrimination in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (" DCHRA" ), D.C. Code § 2-1401, et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (" ADEA" ), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. See Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ ¶ 127, 133. The defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration based upon an arbitration agreement signed by the plaintiff at the outset of his employment. See Defs.' Mot. Dismiss & Compel Arbitration, ECF No. 3 (" Defs.' Mot. Dismiss" ). For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that all of the plaintiff's claims are the subject of a valid arbitration agreement and therefore dismisses the case.


In 2008, the plaintiff began working for Buckley Kolar, LLP--the predecessor to one of the defendants in this action, BuckleySandler, LLP (" BuckleySandler" )--on a temporary basis as a contract attorney primarily responsible for document review. See Compl. ¶ 10. In December 2009, the plaintiff accepted a position as a temporary staff attorney with BuckleySandler, which was made permanent in September 2010. Id. ¶ ¶ 11-13. The staff attorney program was managed by Kirk Jensen and Elizabeth McGinn, partners at BuckleySandler. Id. ¶ 15. As a condition of his employment, the plaintiff entered into an agreement that required " final and binding arbitration" as the " sole and exclusive remedy" for any " claims and disputes . . . related in any way to [his] employment or the termination of [his] employment." See Defs.' Mem. Pts. Auths. Supp. Mot. Dismiss & Compel Arbitration (" Defs' Mem." ), Declaration of Terri Carnahan, Ex. 1 (" Arbitration Agreement" ), ECF No. 3-2. According to the plaintiff, at some point thereafter BuckleySandler requested that the plaintiff, " as a condition of continued employment," sign an agreement, which the plaintiff " believe[s] . . . contained an Arbitration Agreement." See Pl.'s Response to Defs.' Mot. Dismiss & Compel Arbitration (" Pl.'s Response" ), Declaration of Matthew J. Ryan ¶ 3 (" Ryan Decl." ), ECF No. 6 (" Unsigned Employment Agreement" ). The plaintiff " declined to sign" the proffered agreement,

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but suffered " no adverse effect upon [his] employment." Id.

On several occasions during the course of his employment at BuckleySandler, the plaintiff was passed over for promotion to the position of " Regulatory Attorney." See Compl. ¶ ¶ 43-45, 54, 96, 106. The plaintiff alleges that this was the result of illegal age discrimination. See id. ¶ ¶ 127, 133. On January 31, 2013, after being passed over for promotion, the plaintiff attended a meeting where Kirk Jensen informed him that his position was being terminated. Id. at ¶ 111. At the meeting, BuckleySandler offered the plaintiff a Confidential Separation Agreement and General Release, which the plaintiff subsequently signed. Ryan Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. 1 (" Separation Agreement" ). The Separation Agreement provided the plaintiff with severance pay, limited medical coverage, and certain outplacement services in exchange for a release of certain claims that the defendant might have against the employer, including " [a]ny and all claims of discrimination . . . based on . . . age . . . ." Separation Agreement ¶ ¶ 2, 3(c). Additionally, the Separation Agreement contained a merger clause, which stated:

This Agreement sets forth the entire agreement between the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes any and all prior agreements or understandings between them pertaining to such subject matter. There are no written or oral understandings, promises, representations, or agreements directly or indirectly related to this Agreement. No modification, revision, addition to, or alteration of this Agreement will be binding unless in writing and signed by Employee and the Firm.

Id. ¶ 13(b). The Separation Agreement did not provide any forum to resolve disputes arising out of the Separation Agreement.

On July 26, 2013, following his termination, the plaintiff filed a charge with the EEOC. Compl. ¶ 123. Upon investigation, the EEOC was " unable to conclude" that BuckleySandler violated the law in terminating the plaintiff. See Compl. The plaintiff then filed this action against BuckleySandler, Kirk Jensen, and Elizabeth McGinn alleging that his termination was the result of age discrimination in violation of the DCHRA and the ADEA. See Compl. ¶ ¶ 127, 133. In response, the defendants filed the pending Motion to Dismiss and Compel Arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (" FAA" ), seeking to dismiss or stay proceedings pending arbitration. The defendants also seek to recover attorneys' fees and costs associated with filing this motion. See Defs.' Mot. Dismiss.


A motion to compel arbitration, pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (" FAA" ), 9 U.S.C. § 4, is treated " as if it were a request for summary disposition of the issue of whether or not there had been a meeting of the minds on the agreement to arbitrate" and, therefore, is subject to the summary judgment standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 (a). Aliron Int'l, Inc. v. Cherokee Nation Indus.., 531 F.3d 863, 865, 382 U.S.App.D.C. 134 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (internal quotations and citations omitted). A motion to compel arbitration focuses judicial scrutiny on the arbitrability of the dispute, rather than the dispute itself. See Aliron Int'l, 531 F.3d at 865; Tower Ins. Co. of New York v. Davis/Gilford, A JV, 967 F.Supp.2d 72, 77 (D.D.C. 2013); see also Bensadoun v. Jobe-Riat, 316 F.3d ...

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