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Williams v. Dearborn Motors 1, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 24, 2018

BRIAN P. WILLIAMS and JAY HOWARD Plaintiffs,
v.
DEARBORN MOTORS 1, LLC, d/b/a ALL PRO NISSAN OF DEARBORN, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' CLASS CLAIMS AND TO COMPEL ARBITRATION OF PLAINTIFF HOWARD'S INDIVIDUAL CLAIMS [9]

          Nancy G. Edmunds United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs are former employees of Defendant seeking to represent a class of Defendant's employees and former employees who were required to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition of employment or continued employment with Defendant. Plaintiffs' class claims allege that the arbitration agreement contains provisions that violate federal law and render the arbitration agreement unenforceable. The named Plaintiffs also allege individual claims of retaliation and discrimination in violation of several statutes, as detailed below.

         Currently before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' class claims and compel arbitration of named Plaintiff Jay Howard's individual claims. (Dkt. # 9). For the reasons stated below, this Court GRANTS Defendant's motion.

         I. FACTS

         Defendant Dearborn Motors 1, LLC, d/b/a All Pro Nissan of Dearborn is a car dealership located in Dearborn, Michigan. According to the First Amended Complaint, named Plaintiff Brian P. Williams began working for Defendant as a porter in May 2015. Named Plaintiff Jay Howard began working for Defendant as a mechanic in June 2015. In December 2015, Defendant advised Williams, Howard, and all other employees that they were required to sign an arbitration agreement in order to remain employed. After returning from sick leave for neuropathy, epilepsy, sickle cell disease, and depression, Williams refused to sign the arbitration agreement, and Defendant terminated his employment in January 2016 as a result. Howard, on the other hand, did sign the arbitration agreement in order to keep his job.

         In January 2016, Williams filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that Defendant fired him for failing to sign the arbitration agreement, which he believed denied him access to his legal rights under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), and the Genetic Information Non-Disclosure Act. (Dkt. # 3-3). Williams also alleged that Defendant denied him the position of Oil Technician because of his disability and race, and that Defendant paid him and other African American workers less wages because of their race. Id. In October 2016, the EEOC determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that Defendant violated Title VII, the ADA, the Equal Pay Act, the ADEA, and the Genetic Information Non-Disclosure Act. (Dkt. # 3-4). In January 2017, the State of Michigan denied Williams unemployment benefits because, according to Defendant, Williams had been fired for misconduct in violation of company policy. (Dkt. # 3-6). In March 2017, the EEOC issued Williams Notice of Right to Sue letters. (Dkt. # 3-7).

         In January 2016, Howard complained to Defendant of race-based compensation disparities. In February 2016, Howard filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that he was subjected to less favorable conditions of employment, fewer wages, and harassment because of his race. (Dkt. # 3-8). Howard also alleged that Defendant retaliated after he complained of discrimination, and that he was forced to sign a waiver denying him access to legal rights under Title VII, the ADA, the Equal Pay Act, the ADEA, and the Genetic Information Non-Disclosure Act. In October 2016, the EEOC determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that Defendant violated Title VII, the ADA, the Equal Pay Act, the ADEA, and the Genetic Information Non-Disclosure Act. (Dkt. # 3-9). Defendant terminated Howard's employment in May 2017. Shortly thereafter, the EEOC issued Howard a Notice of Right to Sue letter. (Dkt. # 3-11). In August 2017, Howard filed another charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that, since filing his first charge, Defendant subjected him to retaliation. (Dkt. # 3-8).

         Plaintiffs seek to represent a class of Defendant's employees and former employees who were required to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition of employment or continued employment with Defendant. According to Plaintiffs, through the arbitration agreement, Defendant sought to strip Plaintiffs of rights guaranteed under federal law by (1) forcing Plaintiffs to agree to submit any claims arising out of employment to exclusive and binding arbitration; (2) forcing Plaintiffs to waive any rights to trial by jury or to bring any claims in court; (3) forcing Plaintiffs to agree to only assert claims on an individual basis; (4) forcing Plaintiffs to agree to waive any rights to seek class or collective action treatment for any claims they may have; (5) forcing Plaintiffs to agree to waive any rights they may have to participate in any class or collective action against Defendant; (6) forcing Plaintiffs to agree to “opt out” of any proceeding in which Plaintiffs are made members or part of a class; and (7) forcing Plaintiffs to agree to waiving any rights to any monetary recovery obtained by any third party on their behalf. Plaintiffs bring class claims of discrimination in violation of Title VII (Count I), discrimination in violation of the ADA (Count II), and discrimination in violation of the ADEA (Count III).

         In addition to the class claims of discrimination, Williams brings individual claims of retaliation in violation of Title VII (Count IV), retaliation in violation of the ADEA (Count V), and retaliation in violation of the ADA (Count VI). Howard brings individual claims of retaliation in violation of Title VII (Count IV), race discrimination in violation of Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil rights Act (“ELCRA”) (Count VII), and retaliation in violation of ELCRA (Count VIII).

         Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' class claims and compel arbitration of Howard's individual claims. Defendant requests that Howard's individual claims be dismissed, or alternatively, stayed.

         The 2-page arbitration agreement at issue in this case is titled “Arbitration / Waiver of Class and Collective Actions / Attorney Fees and Costs” and consists of three paragraphs, A through C. Paragraph A states:

Any controversy, dispute, or claim arising out of employee's employment at the company, whether contractual, in tort, or based upon statute, shall be exclusively decided by binding arbitration held pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act . . . The arbitrator shall have exclusive authority to resolve any and all disputes over the validity of any part of this lease . . . .

(Dkt. # 3-1). Paragraph B addresses costs and attorneys fees. Paragraph C states:

Employee agrees that all claims or disputes between employee and the company . . . will be litigated individually; that he/she will not consolidate his/her claims with the claims of any other individual; that he/she will not seek class or collective action treatment for any claim that he/she may have; and that he/she will not participate in any class or collective action treatment against the company . . . . If at any time the employee is made a member or [sic] a class in any proceeding, he/she will “opt out” at the first ...

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