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LLC v. Denyer

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 15, 2017

SOUTHERN GLAZER'S WINE AND SPIRITS, LLC, Petitioner,
v.
JANET DENYER, Respondent.

          ORDER GRANTING PETITION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION

          J. Michael Seabright, Chief United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Petitioner Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits, LLC's (“SGWS” or “Petitioner”) Petition to Compel Arbitration of Respondent Janet Denyer's (“Denyer”) claims arising from the termination of her employment with Petitioner. ECF No. 2. For the reasons discussed below, the Petition to Compel Arbitration is GRANTED.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Denyer began working for Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc. (“SWSA”)[1] on or about March 7, 2016. Denyer Decl. ¶ 8; Kauther Decl. ¶ 3. That same day, as part of her “onboarding” process, Denyer signed a “Notice to Prospective Employees” (“Notice”), ECF No. 15-2, and a “Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate Claims” (“Agreement”), ECF No. 2-5. See Declaration of Lauren Mutti, ECF No. 2-2 ¶ 12; Kauther Decl. ¶ 9.

         By signing the Notice, Denyer agreed “to be bound by . . . arbitration procedures for employer-employee disputes, ” including but not limited to “claims, demands or actions” for violation of any federal, state or local law “regarding . . . the termination of employment[.]” Notice at 1. The Notice specified the use of the American Arbitration Association arbitration procedures, “as modified and expanded by the SOUTHERN Employment Arbitration Policy [(“Policy”)], ” id., and advised Denyer that,

. . . it is your responsibility to read and understand the arbitration procedures, and your agreement to be bound by those procedures is a condition of employment.
. . . .
. . . We therefore ask that you read the attached Employment Arbitration Policy and then sign and return the attached [Agreement] in order to signify both your acceptance of our offer of employment and your agreement to the above.
By signing below, you are attesting that you have read and understood this document, and are knowingly and voluntarily agreeing to its terms.

Id. at 1-2.

         Under the Agreement, Denyer agreed to arbitrate all disputes arising from her employment or termination from employment, as well as disputes with Petitioner that are unrelated to her employment. See Agreement at 1. More specifically, the Agreement provides:

The Company and I mutually consent to the resolution by arbitration of all claims or controversies (“claims”), past, present, or future, whether or not arising out of my employment, or its termination, that the Company may have against me or that I may have against the Company or against its officers, directors, employees or agents in their capacity as such or otherwise. The claims covered by this Agreement include - but are not limited to - claims for breach of any contract or covenant (express or implied); tort claims; claims of discrimination and harassment . . . and any other federal, state or local statute, regulation, ordinance or common law doctrine, regarding employment discrimination, conditions of employment or termination of employment; claims for wages, benefits or other compensation due; and claims for violation of any federal, state, or other governmental law, statute, regulation, or ordinance or common law doctrine[.]”
. . . I knowingly and willingly forego my statutory and common law remedies, whether state or federal, whether explicitly mentioned in this Agreement or not, in favor of submitting any disputes with the Company to arbitration. Except as otherwise provided in this Agreement or by law, both the Company and I agree that neither of us shall initiate or prosecute any lawsuit or administrative action . . . in any way related to any claim covered by this Agreement.
I understand that any reference in the Agreement to the Company will also refer to all subsidiary and affiliated entities, agents, and all successors and assigns of any of them.

Id. at 1-2.

And on the signature page (page 4), the Agreement provides:
I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I HAVE CAREFULLY READ THIS AGREEMENT (AND THE POLICY INCORPORATED HEREIN) AND THAT I UNDERSTAND AND AGREE TO BE BOUND BY ITS TERMS. . . .


I UNDERSTAND THAT BY SIGNING THIS AGREEMENT I AM GIVING UP MY RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL IN REGARD TO THE TYPES OF CLAIMS COVERED BY THIS AGREEMENT. . . .


I FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTAND THAT PURSUANT TO THIS AGREEMENT, ARBITRATION OF DISPUTES COVERED BY THIS AGREEMENT IS MANDATORY AND BINDING.


I FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO DISCUSS THIS AGREEMENT WITH MY PRIVATE LEGAL COUNSEL AND HAVE AVAILED MYSELF OF THAT OPPORTUNITY TO THE EXTENT I WISH TO DO SO.

Id. at 4.

         Notwithstanding the above, Denyer now asserts that she was unaware “of the existence of the arbitration agreement” because at the time she signed the Agreement, she had not received a copy of the Policy, or the first three pages of the Agreement. ECF No. 14 at 2-3; Denyer Decl. ¶¶ 3, 4, 7, 9.

         In response to Denyer's assertion, SGWS provided the declaration of Jamie Kauther (“Kauther”), Senior Director, Labor and Employment Counsel for SGWS. Kauther states that she is familiar with the “business operations and employment policies and practices of both [SGWS and SWSA including] . . . the record-keeping practices of [SWSA] for employee personnel files.” Kauther Decl. ¶¶ 3, 4. She further states that SWSA's “uniform policy and practice” was to provide copies of the Notice, Policy, and Agreement to new employees on their first day of work, and that after review and signature, the documents were “immediately stored and maintained in employee personnel files, copies of which were created and continue to be maintained in the normal course and scope of business.” Id. ¶ 5. Kauther has regular access to SWSA's personnel files, including Denyer's. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. And she states that her review of Denyer's file, which contains the Notice, four-page Agreement, and Policy, shows that Denyer received a complete copy of each document and that she signed the Notice and Agreement on March 7, 2016. Id. ¶¶ 8, 9.

         Denyer's employment with SGWS ended on or about April 11, 2017, when she was allegedly wrongfully terminated. ECF No. 2-4 ¶ 5. On June 15, 2017, Denyer's counsel sent SGWS a demand letter and a draft of a Complaint alleging claims of whistleblower retaliation; violation of wage and hour laws; hostile work environment; constructive termination; interference with compensation, terms, conditions, and privileges of employment; conspiracy, fraud, and retaliation in violation of employment laws; intentional interference with the economic ...


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