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Blount v. Northrup Grumman Information Technology Overseas, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

October 14, 2014

CARLOTTA BLOUNT, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHRUP GRUMMAN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY OVERSEAS, INC. et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES C. CACHERIS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Northrop Grumman Information Technology Overseas, Inc.'s ("Defendant" or "Northrop Grumman") Motion to Compel Arbitration [Dkt. 19] and corresponding Memorandum in Support [Dkt. 20]. Plaintiff Carlotta Blount ("Plaintiff" or "Blount") has brought this action for harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, wage and hour violations, and breach of contract. ( See Notice of Removal [Dkt. 1] Ex. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Northrup Grumman's motion and stay this case pending arbitration.

I. Background

Carlotta Blount was employed by Northrop Grumman as a Network Engineer III from September 2010 through March 21, 2012. (Notice of Removal [Dkt. 1], Ex. 1, Compl. ¶ 2 [hereinafter Compl.].) Her employment required her to work overseas. ( Id. ¶ 44.) As a condition of employment, Blount entered into an International Assignment Agreement ("IAA"). ( See Compl., Ex. 1, at 18-21 [hereinafter IAA].)[1] Relevant here, the IAA contained an arbitration clause.[2] Under a section labeled "Miscellaneous, " it stated: "4.1. Arbitration of Disputes. You acknowledge that any employment-related legal claims during or after your Assignment will be subject to the Northrop Grumman Mediation/Binding Arbitration Program CO-H103A ("H103A"), but that the arbitration hearing and related proceedings shall be convened and conducted in McLean, VA U.S. [sic]." (IAA at 19.) The IAA also contained a forum-selection clause selecting Virginia state and federal courts as the appropriate forum for any disputes relating to the IAA. ( Id. )

The H103A program requires both employees and Northrop Grumman "to submit all claims covered by this Program to binding arbitration, rather than to have such claims heard by a court or jury." (Muhly Decl. [Dkt. 22], Ex. A, at 3 [hereinafter H103A].) The arbitration program applies

to any claim, controversy, or dispute, past, present, or future:
which in any way arises out of, relates to, or is associated with your employment with the Company, the termination of your employment or any communications with third parties regarding or related to your employment;
and as to which a court would be authorized by law to grant relief if the claim were successful.

Id. Examples of claims included in the program are: claims for wages or other compensation due; unlawful retaliation claims; breach of contract claims; unlawful discrimination or harassment claims, including but not limited to discrimination or harassment based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, or any other status as protected and defined by applicable law; benefits (unless expressly excluded); and any violation of applicable federal, state, or local law. Id. at 3-4. No employee is required to arbitrate any claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment. Id. at 4.

Blount filed this action in the Superior Court for San Diego County on December 31, 2013. ( See Compl.) She alleged six causes of action: harassment in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA") ("Count 1") (Compl. ¶¶ 46-51); retaliation, in violation of FEHA ("Count 2"); (Comp. ¶¶ 52-57); failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, in violation of the FEHA ("Count 3") (Compl. ¶¶ 58-63); wrongful termination, in violation of public policy ("Count 4") (Compl. ¶¶ 64-69); state statutory wage and hour violations ("Count 5") (Compl. ¶¶ 70-81); and breach of contract ("Count 6") (Compl. ¶¶ 82-87.). Northrop Grumman is named as a defendant as to all counts. In Count 1, Blount also names John McCann, Grant Bunderson, Rudy Velasquez, and Does 1 through 40 as defendants.[3] (Compl. ¶¶ 46-51.) Northrop Grumman removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Notice of Removal at 2.) It then moved to compel arbitration or, in the alternative, to transfer venue. ([Dkt. 10.].) Without reaching the issue of arbitrability, the Court transferred the action here. (7/23/14 Mem. Op. [Dkt. 16] at 5.)

Northrop Grumman filed the instant motion and supporting memorandum on August 12, 2014 [Dkts. 19, 20]. A hearing on the motion was set for September 25, 2014. ([Dkt. 23].) Local Civil Rule 7(F)(1) provides that a party opposing a motion "shall file a responsive brief and such supporting documents as are appropriate, within eleven (11) days after service[.]" E.D. Va. Local Civ. R. 7(F)(1). Rule 6(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure adds three days to this period if service is made under Rule 5(b)(2)(E), which allows for service to be made through electronic means. Given these rules, Blount's response was due on August 26, 2014. That date came and went without any filing from her. On September 16, the Court informed both parties that it would take the case on the papers. On September 25, the date originally set for the hearing on Northrup Grumman's motion, Blount filed her opposition. ([Dkt. 27].)

Having been briefed, Northrop Grumman's motion is ripe for adjudication.

II. Legal Standard

The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-15, was intended to "create a body of federal substantive law of arbitrability, applicable to any arbitration agreement within the coverage of the Act." Power Sys. & Controls, Inc. v. Schneider Elec. USA, Inc. , No. 3:10CV137, 2010 WL 2384537, at *1 (E.D. Va. June 9, 2010) (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Const. Corp. , 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983)). The FAA reflects a liberal national policy favoring arbitration agreements. Id. (citation omitted). "[A]ny 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 waiver, delay, or a like defense to arbitrability." Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. , 460 U.S. at 24. Thus, "the heavy presumption of arbitrability requires ...


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