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Paula Brandl. v. Ace Usa

January 14, 2011

PAULA BRANDL.
v.
ACE USA, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'neill, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Paula Brandl was employed by defendant ACE USA as an account coordinator from 2002 to 2008. On July 16, 2010, she filed a complaint against ACE USA; ACE INA Holding, Inc. (collectively, the ACE Defendants); ESIS, Inc.; Life Insurance Company of America, a/k/a Life Insurance Company of North America, a Cigna Company ("LINA"); and Cigna Group Insurance, a subsidiary of Cigna, asserting claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 1974, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq., the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2001 et seq., the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Act, 43 P.S. § 260 et seq., and for common law breach of contract. Plaintiff asserts that she was improperly denied short-term disability and long term disability benefits and that ACE USA interfered with her right to take leave.

The ACE defendants seek to stay the proceedings before this Court and to compel arbitration based on the terms of ACE's Employment Dispute Resolution Policy.*fn1 Brandl argues that ERISA and her benefits plan dictate the remedy in the event of an adverse benefits determination and that her benefits plan does not include an arbitration provision. I find that Brandl's arbitration agreement is valid and that ERISA does not preclude arbitration of her claims against the ACE defendants. Accordingly I will grant the ACE defendants' motion to stay and to compel arbitration.

Also before me is an unopposed Rule 12 motion filed by defendant Life Insurance Company of America seeking to dismiss plaintiff's "Short Term Disability Claim" and "Pennsylvania Wage Collection Act and Breach of Contract Claims" against it for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, to dismiss plaintiff's first amended complaint against "CIGNA Group Insurance" and to strike her jury trial demand. I will grant LINA's motion for the reasons stated below.

BACKGROUND

On January 7, 2002 Brandl signed an application for employment at ACE USA, which stated, in relevant part, that:

I AGREE THAT IN RETURN FOR BEING CONSIDERED FOR EMPLOYMENT AND/OR RECEIVING AN OFFER OF EMPLOYMENT, I WILL RESOLVE ANY DISPUTE ABOUT MY CANDIDACY FOR EMPLOYMENT, EMPLOYMENT, OR CESSATION OF EMPLOYMENT EXCLUSIVELY THROUGH THE INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL EMPLOYMENT DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCESSES OF MY EMPLOYER WHICH INCLUDES FINAL AND BINDING ARBITRATION WITH A NEUTRAL ARBITRATOR. I UNDERSTAND THAT MY EMPLOYER ALSO AGREES TO FOLLOW THE DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCESSES AND THAT COPIES OF THE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES DESCRIBING THE DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCESSES ARE AVAILABLE TO ME.

(Doc. No. 5-2, at 32 (emphasis in original).)*fn2

Brandl signed an employment offer letter from ACE USA on February 7, 2002, "agree[ing] to employment under the terms of [the] letter." (Doc. No. 5-2, at 35.) The offer letter stated, inter alia, that "the ACE Employment Dispute Resolution Program provides a quick, fair, process for resolving workplace disputes. The final step of the program includes mandatory and binding arbitration with a neutral third party arbitrator." (Id. at 34.)

Brandl began working for ACE USA on February 18, 2002. On February 19, 2002, she signed the ACE Employee Guide: Receipt and Agreement, which states: "[t]his is to acknowledge that I have received and will take the time to review the ACE Employee Guide available to me on ACE's intranet site. I agree that it is my responsibility to read the Employee Guide and to understand and abide by the rules, policies, procedures and standards set forth in the Guide." (Doc. No. 5-2, at 37.) The ACE Employee Guide includes an "Employment Dispute Arbitration Policy," that defines the scope of claims and potential claims that must be submitted to arbitration:

This policy covers all employment-related disagreements and problems that concern a right, privilege or interest recognized by applicable law. Such disputes include claims, demands, disputes, controversies or actions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and any other federal, state or local, statute, regulation, ordinance or common law doctrine, regarding unfair competition, employment discrimination, retaliation, whistleblowing, wage and hour matters, conditions of employment or termination of employment. (Doc. No. 5-2, at 11-12 (emphasis added).) The Employment Dispute Arbitration Policy further provides that it is the policy of the Ace Companies ("ACE") that arbitration by a neutral third party is the required and final means for the resolution of any employment-related legal claim not resolved by the internal dispute resolution processes.

Both ACE and the employee will be bound by any decision made by a neutral arbitrator. If the employee or ACE does not abide by the Arbitrator's decision, either party may go to court to enforce the arbitrator's decision, but arbitration must be used before going to court. This policy prevents both ACE and the employee from going to court over employment-related disputes. . . . (Doc. No. 5-2, at 11.)

On or about July 31, 2008, Brandl took leave from work for an illness and thereafter applied for short term disability benefits. On or about September 2, 2008, ACE USA advised plaintiff that her application for STD benefits was denied, claiming a lack of sufficient documentation from her physician. Plaintiff claimed she could not return to work due to the continuation of her illness.*fn3 Her supervisor informed her that if she could not return to work her last day of employment would be September 3, 2008. Brandl did not return to work.

Brandl appealed the denial of her STD benefit to ESIS, the STD plan administrator. On June 12, 2009, ESIS awarded plaintiff STD coverage for the period from July 21, 2008 to September 2, 2008 (approximately five weeks). Plaintiff appealed ESIS' award, as it did not include the full 26 weeks of STD benefits that plaintiff claims she was entitled to under the STD plan. On or about May 3, 2010, ESIS awarded ...


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