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Maldonado v. Sectek, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 7, 2019



          Baylson, J.

         I. Introduction Plaintiff, Caesar Maldonado, alleges that Defendant, SecTek, Inc., wrongfully terminated his employment as a security guard after he suffered a hernia in the course of his employment. Plaintiff seeks damages to redress his injuries and alleges three Counts:

1. Count I: Disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (“ADA”), as amended by the ADA Amendments Act (“ADAAA”);
2. Count II: Disability discrimination in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951, et seq. (“PHRA”); and
3. Count III: Wrongful discharge pursuant to Shick v. Shirey, 716 A.2d 1231 (Pa. 1998), and the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act.

         Presently before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Compel Arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) entered into by Defendant and the United Federation of Special Police and Security Officers, Inc. (“Union”), of which Plaintiff was a member. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion to Compel Arbitration is GRANTED, but the Motion to Dismiss is DENIED.

         II. Factual Background

         A. Parties and Events Alleged

         Taking Plaintiff's factual allegations as true, the factual background is as follows. Plaintiff is a citizen of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (ECF 1, “Compl.” ¶ 1.) Defendant is incorporated in Pennsylvania and has its principal place of business in Reston, Virginia. (Id. ¶ 2.) At all times relevant, Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a security guard at Independence Hall. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) Plaintiff's position involved heavy lifting, frequent walking, carrying heavy equipment, and frequent bending. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         On or about August 20, 2015, Plaintiff suffered an incarcerated umbilical hernia in the course and scope of his employment. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 17.) The next day, Plaintiff informed his supervisor, Dale White, [1] that he had been injured. (Id. ¶ 15.) Initially, Plaintiff's hernia was 2-3 centimeters in size, but over time and without treatment, the hernia increased in size to eight centimeters. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.)

         Plaintiff was scheduled to undergo surgery to repair the hernia on October 6, 2015. (Id. ¶ 21.) When Plaintiff asked White about his eligibility for short term disability, White told Plaintiff that he “did not have” short term disability. (Id. ¶ 22.) Ultimately, Plaintiff was unable to undergo surgery until July 2018. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         On November 16, 2016, “it was alleged” that Plaintiff used a red dot laser pointer to signal to drivers who were stopped on the road in violation of Standard Operating Procedures. (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff was terminated on or about November 30, 2016. (Id. ¶ 24.)[2] The November 16 incident was “[t]he stated reason” for Plaintiff's termination. (Id. ¶ 25.)[3]

         Plaintiff filed his first workers' compensation Claim Petition with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) on February 2, 2017. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff filed a second Claim Petition on June 20, 2017. (Id. ¶ 28.) On July 26, 2018, the PHRC sent Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter. (Id. ¶ 30; id. Ex. A.) The right-to-sue letter features a case number issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), reflecting the dual filing arrangement between the PHRC and EEOC. (Compl. Ex. A.)[4]

         B. CBA

         On December 10, 2014, representatives of the Union and Defendant executed the CBA “for guard services at Independence National Historic Park” in Philadelphia. (ECF 18, “Mot.” Ex. 1, “CBA.”) The CBA became effective on December 10, 2014 for all “non-economic terms, ” and on October 1, 2015 for all “economic terms.” (Id. ¶ 1.) By the terms of the CBA, it remained in force until September 30, 2017. (Id. ¶ 19.1.) Plaintiff was not a signatory of the CBA, but Plaintiff does not dispute that he was a member of the Union while employed by Defendant. Article 12 of the CBA, entitled “Grievance Mediation and Arbitration Procedure, ” sets forth a multi-step grievance procedure, the last step of which is binding arbitration. (Id. ¶ 12.1.)

         III. Procedural History

         The Complaint was filed in this Court on February 14, 2019 (ECF 1). On April 10, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Request for Default Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2) because more than 21 days had passed since Defendant had been served with the summons and Complaint on March 11, 2019 (ECF 8). On the same date, Plaintiff filed a Request for Trial by Jury (ECF 9). On April 26, 2019, Defendant filed a Motion for Extension of Time to Answer Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rule 6(b)(1)(B) (ECF 10). The Court held a telephone conference on Defendant's Motion on April 29, 2019, and the Court granted the Motion on the same date (ECF 11, 13). Pursuant to the Court's Order, Defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint on May 2, 2019 (ECF 15).

         On May 13, 2019, following a Rule 16 conference on that date, the Court entered a Scheduling Order, which stated, “Defendant may move to compel Arbitration under Union agreement.” (ECF 16, 17 ¶ 7.) Defendant filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration on May 18, 2019 (ECF 18). Defendant contends that the agreement to arbitrate employment-related disputes in the CBA is valid, and that Plaintiff's claims fall within the scope of that agreement. (Id. at 4-6[5].)

         On May 28, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Response in opposition to Defendant's Motion (ECF 20, “Resp.”). In the Response, Plaintiff contends that his claims do not fall within the scope of the CBA because he is not an “employee” as defined by the CBA. (Id. at 8-9[6].) According to Plaintiff, he is not an “employee” because he was terminated before he filed claims with the PHRC or initiated litigation. (Id.) Alternatively, Plaintiff argues that his claims are not subject to arbitration because the arbitration provision in the CBA does not contain a “clear and unmistakable” waiver of his right to bring statutory discrimination claims in federal court. (Id. at 9-10.) Finally, Plaintiff argues that even if the Court determines that the waiver is “clear and unmistakable, ” the CBA should not be enforced because Congress did not intend for arbitrators to enforce the ADA. (Id. at 10-12.)

         On June 3, 2019, Defendant filed a Reply in support of the Motion (ECF 21, “Rep.”). In the Reply, Defendant argues that Plaintiff is an “employee” for purposes of the CBA because his claims are based on allegations that arose during the scope of his employment. (Id. at 1-2.) Defendant further argues that the CBA “clearly and unmistakably” covers Plaintiff's claims. (Id. at 2-5.) Finally, Defendant contends that the ADA, by its terms, encourages arbitration to resolve disputes. (Id. at 5.)

         On June 20, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File a Surreply, which the Court granted (ECF 24, 25). As a result, Plaintiff filed a Surreply in opposition to the Motion on July 17, 2019 (ECF 26, “Surrep.”) In the Surreply, Plaintiff contends that the CBA does not contain a “clear and unmistakable” waiver of Plaintiff's right to pursue his PHRA claim in a judicial forum because the arbitration provision does not expressly reference the PHRA. (Id. at 2-4[7].)

         The next day, the Court held a hearing on the Motion to Dismiss and Compel Arbitration (ECF 25).[8] During the hearing, the Court invited the parties to submit letters providing citations to precedential judicial decisions in further support of their positions. On July 25, 2019, both parties submitted such letters (ECF 29, 30). In Plaintiff's letter, Plaintiff stipulated to strike the wrongful termination claim-Count III of the Complaint. (See ECF 30.) As a result, only the ADA and PHRA disability discrimination claims (Counts I and II) remain. Magistrate Judge Strawbridge has scheduled a Settlement Conference for August 28, 2019 (ECF 28).

         IV. Legal Standard

         The FAA, which governs the arbitration and arbitrability of disputes, provides that as a matter of federal law, “[a] written provision” in a contract evidencing an intention to settle disputes by arbitration “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2. Because the FAA reflects a strong federal policy favoring arbitration, courts must “rigorously enforce agreements to arbitrate.” Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v. Byrd, 470 U.S. 213, 221 (1985). “The FAA thereby places arbitration agreements on ...

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