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Tyrone Hodges, Sr v. Sce Environmental Group

May 24, 2012

TYRONE HODGES, SR.,
PLAINTIFF
v.
SCE ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP, INC., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition is Defendant SCE Environmental Group, Inc.'s motion to stay proceedings pending arbitration or, alternatively, to compel arbitration in this case involving allegations of racial discrimination in employment. The matter is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

Background

Defendant is a company in the business of providing a range of environmental services to companies, municipalities and government agencies. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 7). Defendant hired Plaintiff Tyrone Hodges, Sr. in November 2010. (Id. ¶ 9). During mid-April 2011, defendant assigned plaintiff to a two-week project of decontaminating a chemical plant with several other workers/crew members. (Id. ¶ 13). Plaintiff alleges that during this two-week assignment, his co-workers subjected him to racially discriminatory jokes and comments. (Id. ¶ 14). Plaintiff complained to management about the racial discrimination. (Id. ¶ 15). Subsequent to his complaints, "he experienced hostility, antagonism, was treated in a derogatory manner, was given undesirable work assignments, and was only given sporadic work." (Id. ¶ 16). Plaintiff asserts that his employer constructively discharged him by failing to assign him work and failing to put him on the work schedule. (Id. ¶ 17). Based upon these allegations, plaintiff instituted the instant action. He asserts that his termination from employment was due to his race and in retaliation for his complaints of racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.*fn1 After waiving service and being provided with a copy of the complaint, defendant filed a motion to stay proceedings pending arbitration or, alternatively, to compel arbitration. Plaintiff opposes the motion, bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

Because plaintiff's complaint is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for employment discrimination, we have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). Standard of review

The question in this case is whether the parties should be compelled to arbitrate their employment dispute. "It is well established that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), reflects a 'strong federal policy in favor of the resolution of disputes through arbitration.'" Kirleis v. Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., 560 F.3d 156, 160 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Alexander v. Anthony Int'l, L.P., 341 F.3d 256, 263 (3d Cir. 2003)). Still, "[b]ecause arbitration is a matter of contract . . . before compelling arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, a court must determine that (1) a valid agreement to arbitrate exists, and (2) the particular dispute falls within the scope of the agreement." Id. "A party to a valid and enforceable arbitration agreement is entitled to a stay of federal court proceedings pending arbitration as well as an order compelling such arbitration." Alexander v. Anthony Intern., L.P., 341 F.3d 256, 263-64 (3d Cir. 2003); see also 9 U.S.C. § § 3 and 4.

Discussion

When defendant hired plaintiff, they provided him with an Employee Handbook. The handbook contains a provision that provides that the parties agree to arbitrate disputes involving claims of unlawful discrimination. Specifically, the Employee Handbook provides as follows:

If an employment dispute arises while you are employed at S.C.E., S.C.E. requests that you agree to submit any such dispute arising out of your employment or termination of your employment (including, but not limited to, claims of unlawful termination based on race, sex, age, national origin, disability, breach of contract or any other bias prohibited by law) exclusively to binding arbitration under the federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C., Section

1. Similarly, any disputes arising during your employment involving claims of unlawful discrimination or harassment under federal or state statutes shall be submitted exclusively to binding arbitration under the above provisions. This arbitration shall be the exclusive means of resolving any dispute arising out of your employment or termination from employment by S.C.E. or you, and employees in any court or any forum can bring no other action. (Doc. 6-3, Def. Ex. B, Employee Handbook, at 14).

Upon commencing employment with the defendant, plaintiff signed a "Receipt and Acknowledgment of Employment Policies" which provides as follows:

By accepting or continuing employment with the Company, I agree that arbitration is the exclusive remedy for all disputes arising out of or related to my employment with the company. I will read the Arbitration Policy I have been given and agree to abide by the policy and ask questions if needed regarding the policy. Employees should contact their supervisor or refer to the complete copy of the Arbitration Policy outlining procedures and deadlines for submitting a claim. (Doc. 6--4, Def. Ex. C).

Thus, the defendant's policy is to resolve employment disputes pursuant to this arbitration agreement under the FAA rather than through court proceedings. The issue we must determine ...


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