United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
JOI ELIZABETH PEAKE, Magistrate Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Darden Restaurant, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and Compel Arbitration [Doc. #16]. For the reasons that follow, the Court should grant the instant motion to the extent that the Court should compel arbitration, but should stay this action pending arbitration rather than dismiss it.
I. Facts, Claims, and Procedural History
Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed her Complaint [Doc. #2] and her Amended Complaint [Doc. #14], contending that Defendant discriminated against and ultimately terminated her because of her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. Defendant subsequently filed its instant Motion contending that Plaintiff is bound by a valid and enforceable written agreement requiring her to arbitrate her claims such that this Court should dismiss this action and compel arbitration. (See Def.'s Mot. Compel Arbitration [Doc. #16] ¶ 4.) Plaintiff responded [Doc. #19] and Defendant replied [Doc. #20].
The Federal Arbitration Act "mandates that district courts shall direct the parties to proceed to arbitration on issues as to which an arbitration agreement has been signed." Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v. Byrd, 470 U.S. 213, 218 (1985). A litigant can compel arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act if he can establish:
"(1) the existence of a dispute between the parties, (2) a written agreement that includes an arbitration provision which purports to cover the dispute, (3) the relationship of the transaction, which is evidenced by the agreement, to interstate or foreign commerce, and (4) the failure, neglect or refusal of [a party] to arbitrate the dispute."
Adkins v. Labor Ready, Inc., 303 F.3d 496, 500-01 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Whiteside v. Teltech Corp., 940 F.2d 99, 102 (4th Cir. 1991)). In determining whether a party agreed to arbitration, "the court should apply ordinary state-law principles that govern the formation of contracts.'" Johnson v. Circuit City Stores, 148 F.3d 373, 377 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944 (1995)).
"In the context of motions to compel arbitration brought under the Federal Arbitration Act... courts apply a standard similar to that applicable to a motion for summary judgment.'" Minter v. Freeway Food, Inc., No. 1:03CV00882, 2004 WL 735047, at *2 (M.D. N.C. Apr. 2, 2004) (unpublished) (quoting Bensadoun v. Jobe-Riat, 316 F.3d 171, 175 (2d Cir. 2003)); see also 9 U.S.C. § 4 ("[U]pon being satisfied that the making of the agreement for arbitration or the failure to comply therewith is not in issue, the court shall make an order directing the parties to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the terms of the agreement.").
In connection with its instant Motion, Defendant has provided the Declaration of Melissa Ingalsbe, Director of Defendant's Dispute Resolution Process Department. [Doc. #16-1.] Ms. Ingalsbe avers that, as part of the hiring process, Defendant would have provided Plaintiff with a copy of its Dispute Resolution Process ("DRP") booklet. ( Id., ¶ 5.) Moreover, Ms. Ingalsbe states that, "[o]n July 2, 2011, an acknowledgement of the DRP was executed, bearing the signature of [Plaintiff], which confirmed receipt, review and understanding of the DRP booklet." ( Id., ¶ 6.)
Consistent with those statements, attached to Ms. Ingalsbe's declaration is a document entitled "Dispute Resolution Process Acknowledgement, " dated July 2, 2011, which reflects Plaintiff's signature. (See Decl. of M. Inglasbe, Ex. 1 [Doc. #16-1 at 4-5].) That document provides:
I have received and reviewed the [DRP] booklet. This booklet contains the requirements, obligations, procedures and benefits of the DRP. I have read this information and understand and agree to the terms and conditions of the DRP. I agree as a condition of my employment, to submit any eligible disputes I may have to the company's DRP and to abide by the provisions outlined in the DRP. I understand that this includes, for example, claims under state and federal laws relating to harassment or discrimination, as well as other employment-related claims as defined by the DRP. Finally, I understand that the company is equally bound to all of the provisions of the DRP.
Also attached to Ms. Ingalsbe's declaration is a copy of Defendant's DRP booklet. (See Dec. of M. Ingalsbe, Ex. 2 [Doc. #16-1 at 7-20].) The DRP booklet describes a four-step dispute resolution process: (1) "Open Door"; (2) "Peer Review"; (3) ...