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Schwartz v. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 2, 2018

ERIC SCHWARTZ, Plaintiff,
v.
THE RITZ-CARLTON HOTEL COMPANY, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Eric Schwartz worked for nearly thirteen years for Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia before being terminated. Feeling that he was fired because of his age, Schwartz sued Ritz-Carlton under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621, et seq.("ADEA") and Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. §§ 951, et seq. ("PHRA").Citing an arbitration provision in Schwartz's Employee Agreement, Ritz-Carlton moves to dismiss, or alternatively to stay the proceedings, to enable the parties to resolve the dispute before the American Arbitration Association. (Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 16.) The Court grants the Motion, compels arbitration and stays this case for the reasons that follow.

         Ritz-Carlton hired Schwartz in 2000 as a manager and he received the training afforded to new employees. (Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 1; Reply, Ex. 1 ("Bryant-Jackson Supp. Decl) at ¶¶ 6-7, ECF No. 18-1.) As part of that training, employees receive an Employee Agreement that describes their rights and Ritz-Carlton's three-stage procedure for resolving disputes that arise in the workplace. (Bryant-Jackson Supp.Decl. at ¶ 6.) At the first stage, employees agree to attempt to resolve concerns with their immediate supervisor, division head or general manager. (Mot, Ex. A ("Employee Agreement") at 7, ECF No. 18-3.) If this does not resolve the dispute, the employee proceeds to the second stage and seeks further help through a Peer Review Panel, which typically consists of three employees and two managers. (Id. at 8.) Failing resolution, the employee proceeds to stage three, arbitration. (Id. at 11.) The arbitration provision in the Employee Agreement provides:

I shall request Arbitration if I have been terminated or feel I have been discriminated against based on race, color, sex (including sexual harassment), religion, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, age or disability. Arbitration is a process in which my workplace issue is presented to a neutral third party, the arbitrator, for a final and binding decision.

(Id.) (emphasis in original).

         Schwartz received a copy of the Employee Agreement and was trained on the three-stage dispute resolution process. (Bryant-Jackson Supp. Decl. at ¶¶ 3, 5, 7-9.) On November 15, 2000, Schwartz and Assistant Director of Human Resources Vanessa Bryant-Jackson signed the Employee Agreement, which included the arbitration provision.[1] (Id. at ¶ 10.) The signature page was placed in Schwartz's personnel file and he kept the remainder of the Employee Agreement. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11.)

         After completing orientation and training, Schwartz began working as a PBX Manager, 12 but was transferred to the accounting department after his position was eliminated. (Compl., ¶ 4.) He became a Banquet Captain in 2003 and remained in that role until 2012, when he began receiving criticism for his job performance. (Id. at ¶ 7.) Schwartz received three written disciplinary actions before he was terminated on November 14, 2013. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-13.) He was 53 years old at the time and believes he was really fired because of his age, alleging that Ritz-Carlton sought to get rid of older employees. (Id. at ¶¶ 8, 14-19.)

         II

         A

         When it "is apparent, based on the face of a complaint, and documents relied upon in the complaint, that certain of a party's claims are subject to an enforceable arbitration clause, a motion to compel arbitration should be considered under a Rule 12(b)(6) standard without discovery's delay." Guidotti v. Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, 716 F.3d 764, 776 (3d Cir. 2013) (quotation and citation omitted). However, "if the complaint and its supporting documents are unclear regarding the agreement to arbitrate, or if the plaintiff has responded to a motion to compel arbitration with additional facts sufficient to place the agreement to arbitrate in issue, then the parties should be entitled to discovery on the question of arbitrability before a court entertains further briefing on the question." Id. (quotation and citation omitted). The summary judgment standard then applies to any motion to compel arbitration. Id. at 776.

         Schwartz filed his Complaint on August 18, 2017 (ECF No. 1), and Ritz-Carlton filed a Motion to Dismiss or Stay Proceedings, contending that Schwartz's claims should be dismissed because he agreed to arbitrate his age discrimination claims. (ECF No. 3.) The Court denied the Motion without prejudice and ordered limited discovery on the question of arbitrability. (Order at 1 n.l, ECF No. 9.) Discovery entailed declarations and supplemental declarations from Bryant-Jackson and Crystal Champion, Director of Human Resources for Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia.[3] See (Mot., Bryant-Jackson Decl., ECF No. 16-2; Bryant-Jackson Supp. DecL; Ex. 2, Champion Decl., ECF No. 16-3; Ex. 2 ("Champion Supp. DecL"), ECF No. 18-2.) Champion was also deposed. (Ex. 1 ("Champion Dep.") at 26:11-26:21, ECF No. 17-1.) Schwartz was not deposed, nor did he provide an affidavit or declaration which could constitute record evidence to support any of the arguments made in his response to Ritz-Carlton's Motion. With discovery complete, the Court reviews Ritz-Carlton's renewed Motion to Dismiss under the summary judgment standard. See Guidotti, 716 F.3d at 776.

         B

         Summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, discovery, disclosure materials and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Smathers v. Mutli-Tool, Inc./Multi-Plastics, Inc. Emp. Health & Welfare Plan, 298 F.3d 191, 194 (3d Cir. 2002); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S.242, 248 (1986). A mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party will not suffice; there must be evidence by which a jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party. Id. at 252. Summary judgment is appropriate where "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         In reviewing the record, a court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Prowel v. Wise Bus. Forms,579 F.3d 285, 286 (3d Cir. 2009). The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in considering motions for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,530 ...


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