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Perkins v. Dish Network, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Bluefield

June 30, 2017

ETHELOMA RENEE PERKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
DISH NETWORK, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DAVID A. FABER, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Etheloma Renee Perkins (“Plaintiff”) brought this civil suit against Defendant DISH Network, LLC (“Defendant”). Plaintiff claims that during the course of her employment with Defendant, the latter discriminated against her on the impermissible bases of race and sex in contravention of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”). See Doc. No. 1.

         Defendant has moved to dismiss this action, or in the alternative, to stay litigation and compel arbitration. See Doc. Nos. 6-7. Defendant so contends on the ground that at the outset of Plaintiff's employment, Plaintiff signed an Arbitration Agreement (“Agreement”) expressly agreeing to resolve all disputes with Defendant through the formal and compulsory arbitration procedures the Agreement stipulates.

         II. FEDERAL LAW

         The FAA governs this case because it applies to arbitration agreements in most employment contracts. Enacted in 1925, the FAA responded to the “hostility of American courts to the enforcement of arbitration agreements, a judicial disposition inherited from then-longstanding English practice.” Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U.S. 105, 111 (2001). The FAA's coverage provision, § 2, states:

[a] written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction, or the refusal to perform the whole or any part thereof, or an agreement in writing to submit to arbitration an existing controversy arising out of such a contract, transaction, or refusal, 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 (emphasis added). “[T]he FAA was enacted pursuant to Congress' substantive power to regulate interstate commerce and admiralty.” Circuit City Stores, 532 U.S. at 112 (citing Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395, 405 (1967)). “[T]he [FAA] was applicable in state courts and preemptive of state laws hostile to arbitration.” Id. The Supreme Court has construed § 2 and particularly “the words ‘involving commerce, ' . . . as implementing Congress' intent ‘to exercise [its] commerce power to the full.'” Id.

         Under prevailing Supreme Court precedent, Congress may regulate “the channels of interstate commerce, ” “persons or things in interstate commerce, ” and “those activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.” United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 609 (2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). The FAA goes exactly that far. The Supreme Court has observed that “the advantages of the arbitration process [do not] somehow disappear when transferred to the employment context.” Circuit City Stores, 532 U.S. at 123. This is because “[a]rbitration agreements allow parties to avoid the costs of litigation, a benefit that may be of particular importance in employment litigation, which often involves smaller sums of money than disputes concerning commercial contracts.” Id.

         There is no doubt that Plaintiff's employment contract, dated September 20, 2008 until January 7, 2016, “involv[ed] commerce, ” within the Supreme Court's understanding. 9 U.S.C. § 2. Not only does Defendant conduct business in many interstate and foreign locations, a fact with which Plaintiff should have been acquainted from the outset of signing her Agreement, but Plaintiff herself admits that Defendant “sen[t] her to perform [her] duties . . . within and without the continental United States, ” Doc. No. 1, including foreign locations. Some of these “locations included, but were not limited to, the Philippines in July and September 2013; to Mexico in September 2013; to Phoenix, Arizona, twice, one time being June 2014; and to Christiansburg, VA on two occasions, one being in January 2014.” Id. Accordingly, the Agreement falls within the scope of the FAA, and Wood's third prong has been satisfied. It is “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.

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held that under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16, a party can compel arbitration if it establishes: “(1) the existence of a dispute between the parties, (2) a written agreement that includes an arbitration provision which purports to cover the dispute, (3) the relationship of the transaction, which is evidenced by the agreement, to interstate or foreign commerce, and (4) the failure, neglect or refusal of the defendant to arbitrate the dispute.” Am. Gen. Life and Accident Ins. Co. v. Wood, 429 F.3d 83, 87 (4th Cir. 2005) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). This case requires the court to determine whether those prongs have been satisfied.

         III. ARBITRATION AGREEMENT'S TEXT

         The text of this standard, boilerplate Agreement now comes into play. See Doc. No. 6-B. Of course, “a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit.” Am. Recovery Corp. v. Computerized Thermal Imaging, 96 F.3d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 1996) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). That said, FAA-centric federal policy instructs that “any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration, whether the problem at hand is the construction of the contract language itself or an allegation of ...


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