United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO COMPEL
ARBITRATION AND TO STAY JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS [#8] AND
ADMINISTRATIVELY CLOSING CASE
PAGE HOOD CHIEF, U.S. DISTRICT COURT.
December 22, 2016, Plaintiff Jonathan Lancaster
(“Lancaster”) filed a Complaint against Defendant
Comcast Communications Management LLC (“Comcast”)
alleging Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964 and 1991, as amended (Count I) and Violation of
Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (Count II). On
March 6, 2017, Comcast filed the instant Motion to Compel
Arbitration and to Stay or Dismiss Judicial Proceedings. (Doc
# 8) On April 5, 2017, Lancaster filed a Response. (Doc # 11)
On April 19, 2017, Comcast filed a Reply. (Doc # 13) The
Court held a motion hearing on May 17, 2017.
case arises out of the employment and subsequent termination
of Lancaster by Comcast. Lancaster began his employment with
Comcast on June 9, 2003 as a Communications Technician. In
October 2008, Lancaster was promoted to Supervisor of
Installation and Maintenance. In November 2013, Lancaster
became Information Technology (“IT”) Manager
within Comcast's IT department. Lancaster is African
American, and he alleges that Comcast fostered a racially
hostile work environment in which supervisors and workers
routinely made racists comments with no consequence.
Lancaster complained to the appropriate Human Resources
(“HR”) personnel, and he was interviewed by an HR
Manager (the Complaint does not specify when).
March 2015, Lancaster was advised that one of his supervisees
had filed allegations that Lancaster and another supervisor
had been unfair in the supervisee's annual review. The
Complaint alleges that, in addition to interviewing this
supervisee, HR actively solicited other complaints regarding
Lancaster's management style in an effort to build a case
against him. Subsequently, Lancaster was accused of
misconduct and of creating a hostile work environment, and he
was placed on administrative leave. On April 10, 2015,
Lancaster filed an internal complaint alleging that he was
being targeted because he is African American. On April 29,
2015, Lancaster was terminated because he had allegedly
created a hostile work environment and was not trusted by his
employees. That same day, Lancaster's supervisor and
long-time employee, Richard Kroger, who is also African
American, was also terminated by the same individuals who
terminated Lancaster. Lancaster and Kroger were allegedly the
only African American managers within Comcast's IT
department. Both positions were reassigned to white
alleges that he was terminated due to his race and in
retaliation for his complaints of race discrimination and of
a racially hostile work environment in violation of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 and 1991, as amended, and Michigan's
Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. In lieu of an answer,
Comcast filed the instant Motion to Compel Arbitration.
to a Declaration of Lynn Collins (“Collins”),
Vice President of Comcast Solutions, in October 2012, Comcast
rolled out an alternative dispute resolution program called
Comcast Solutions that included mandatory arbitration of
employment-related disputes. (Doc # 8-2, Pg ID 54, 65-66, 72)
The Comcast Solutions program description was posted on the
TeamComcast company intranet site in October 2012 and was
accessible to Lancaster during his employment. Id.
at 54. Comcast Solutions was specifically introduced to the
Heartland Region, which includes Michigan employees, in July
2013. Id. at 55. The TeamComcast site was updated to
specifically identify a rollout to the Heartland Region.
Collins presented two webinars to management and supervisors
in the Heartland Region. Comcast also mailed a Comcast
Solutions brochure to employees' home addresses in the
Heartland Region. Id.
Solutions was rolled out as an opt-out program. Id.
at 56. If an employee did not want to participate, he was
required to opt out by submitting a designated form for that
purpose by the August 28, 2013 deadline. Id. at 91.
Comcast's records indicate, and Lancaster does not
dispute, that Lancaster did not opt out of the program.
Id. at 57.
asserts in his Response, without including a sworn statement
or any other supporting documentation, that he had no
knowledge of Comcast Solutions program or the need to opt out
and that he never received the program materials. According
to Collins, Lancaster attended a webinar presented by Collins
to managers and supervisors on July 16, 2013. The attendance
sheet from the webinar shows, and Lancaster does not dispute,
that Lancaster participated for the duration of the webinar.
(Doc # 8-2, Pg ID 100) According to Collins, the Comcast
Solutions program was discussed in detail during the webinar,
including the Comcast Solutions Frequently Asked Questions
(Doc # 8-2, Pg ID 71-76), the Program Guide for Comcast
Solutions Early Dispute Resolution Program (Doc # 8-2, Pg ID
78-85), the Comcast Solutions Initial Filing Form (Doc # 8-2,
Pg ID 87-89), the Comcast Solutions Opt-Out Request Form (Doc
# 8-2, Pg ID 91), and the Comcast Solutions Brochure (Doc #
8-2, Pg ID 60-67). (Doc # 8-2, Pg ID 58) The aforementioned
program materials specify that claims of discrimination based
on race are covered claims under the Comcast Solutions
program. Id. at 62, 66, 73. According to Lancaster,
he did not receive the program materials at the webinar, and
he does not recall the webinar.
also tracked the brochure mailings to employees' home
addresses, and Comcast records indicate that the letter and
brochure mailed to Lancaster's address was not returned
as undeliverable. Id. at 57, 69. This brochure
included information about the opt-out requirement.
Id. at 60. It also included a bolded
“important note, ” stating as follows.
If you agree to participate in the program, both you
and the company waive the right to bring a civil action or
have a jury trial for any covered legal claims. You also
waive the right to bring or participate in a class action or
collective or representative action on covered claims. All
covered claims will be handled through the above three-step
Comcast Solutions process; both you and the company will be
bound by the final decision of the arbitrator.
Id. at 65 (emphasis in original). The brochure
stated that claims of discrimination based on race were
covered claims under Comcast Solutions. Id. at 62.
The brochure urged employees to read the Program Guide,
Frequently Asked Questions, and other materials, and listed
how employees could access these materials through the
TeamComcast site or through local HR representatives, etc.
Id. at 65, 67.
also sent an e-mail to Lancaster about Comcast Solutions on
August 22, 2013. Id. at 93-95. Comcast has a record
of employees who deleted this email without opening it or who
were out of the office when this e-mail was sent, but
Lancaster's name does not appear on either list,
indicating that he opened this e-mail. Id. The
e-mail asked employees to review the program materials and
consider whether they would like to participate by the
opt-out deadline. It included a link to the program materials
posted on the TeamComcast site. The e-mail further stated as
Please note that if you wish to participate in the program,
you do not have to do anything further. However, if you do
not wish to participate in the program, you will need to
complete and return an “opt out” form (available
at the link above) to this email address by no later than
August 28, 2013, if you have not already done so.
Id. at 95. Lancaster does not dispute that he
received this e-mail or that he had access to the TeamComcast
intranet site where the Comcast Solutions materials were