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Hawthorne v. BJ'S Wholesale Club,

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

August 26, 2016

BJ'S WHOLESALE CLUB, et al, Defendants.


          M. Hannah Lauck United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants BJ's Wholesale Club, Chris Chase, and Brandon Jester's (collectively, "BJ's") joint Motions to Compel Arbitration and Dismiss Proceedings. (ECFNos. 11, 12.) Plaintiff Dazzmond Hawthorne responded to BJ's Motions. (ECF No. 17.) BJ's did not file a reply, and the time to do so has expired. Accordingly, the motions are ripe for adjudication. The Court dispenses with oral argument because the materials before the Court adequately present the facts and legal contentions necessary to resolve BJ's motions. The Court exercises jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[1]

         For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant BJ's Motion to Compel Arbitration (ECF No. 11) and BJ's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 12). The Court will dismiss the action without prejudice.

         I. Procedural and Factual Background

         A. Procedural History

         On September 22, 2015, Hawthorne filed a Complaint in this Court. (ECF No. 2.) Hawthorne submitted his Complaint in narrative form, lacking enumerated paragraphs or citations to any law. Hawthorne specifically states that he brings suit against BJ's for "wrongful termination, pain and suffering, defamation of character, and false allegations."[2] (Compl. 3.) Liberally construing Hawthorne's pro se Complaint, the Court finds he attempts to state claims for defamation, wrongful termination, and racially discriminatory employment practices, in violation of Title VII. (See supra note 1.) On January 13, 2015, BJ's filed the instant Motions to Compel Arbitration and Dismiss the Proceedings. (ECFNos. 11, 12.) BJ's asserts that Hawthorne's claims are subject to an agreement to submit all employment-related claims to binding arbitration.

         B. Hawthorne's Work for and Termination from BJ's

         On or about December 2, 2013, BJ's hired Hawthorne to work in its tire bay.[3]Hawthorne alleges that two coworkers, Shiante Crumbley and Ashley Cooper, informed him in June 2014 that another coworker, Brandon Jester, used vulgar and racially derogatory language to insult him on Facebook. Hawthorne states that he confronted Jester about the comments during Hawthorne's next shift. Hawthorne avers that management then began scheduling Jester to work with Hawthorne more frequently than had occurred in the past. Hawthorne states that he felt as if Jester and BJ's management wanted "something serious to occur" between Hawthorne and Jester. (Compl. 1.) Hawthorne alleges that he brought these concerns to his immediate manager, but was told "to think nothing of it, and just continue to do [his] job." (Id.) Hawthorne states that no other incidents occurred between June and September of 2014.

         On or about September 13, 2014, Hawthorne alleges that Crumbley contacted him and told him to "watch [his] back" because she heard Hawthorne "was getting" something when he returned to work. (Id.) During Hawthorne's next shift, on September 20, 2014, Chris Chase, the store manager, placed Hawthorne on suspension, in part for making threatening comments to other employees. Hawthorne avers that Chase refused to state more specific grounds for the suspension because of a "right-to-know" law. (Id.) On September 29, 2014, Hawthorne met with two other BJ's representatives. The two representatives ultimately terminated Hawthorne due to a threat against Jester.

         C. The Arbitration Agreement

         In April and May of 2013, BJ's adopted the Open Door Solutions program to serve as a four-step dispute resolution system. Steps one, two, and three of the Open Door Solutions program attempt to resolve employment-related disputes internally. Step four of the Open Door Solutions program requires the parties to submit to binding arbitration. At the time of its implementation, BJ's allowed each of its employees to opt out of the Open Door Solutions' Arbitration Agreement (the "Arbitration Agreement"). Since its implementation, BJ's informs all new employees about the Arbitration Agreement and gives them an opportunity to opt out.

         The parties agree that Hawthorne signed a "New Hire Acknowledgement and Agreement" (the "Acknowledgement") upon being hired. (New Hire Ackn. Arb. Agreement at 1; Pl's Resp. at 1.) The Acknowledgment notes that Hawthorne received and reviewed a copy of BJ's Open Door Solutions program materials. The Acknowledgement further states:

In particular, I confirm my understanding and agreement with BJ's that any employment dispute that is not resolved informally by BJ's and me in Steps 1 through 3 of the Open Door Solutions program will be resolved by Step 4, final and binding arbitration, in accordance with the Program.
I understand and agree that I am giving up and waiving my right to a jury trial or court trial including my right to participate in class action litigation or other representation or collective actions.

(New Hire Ackn. Arb. Agreement 1.) Article 2 of the Open Door Solutions Rules and Procedures provides that "all employment-related legal disputes, controversies or claims arising out of, or relating to, employment or cessation of employment, whether arising under federal, state[, ] or local decisional or statutory law ("Employment-Related Claims"), shall be resolved exclusively by final and binding arbitration." (Loudon Decl. at 8 ("Arb. Rules and Proc"), art. 2, ECF No. 13-1.) Article 2 then lists a number of examples of "Employment-Related Claims/' expressly including defamation, wrongful termination, and claims arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Id.)

         The "Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate Claims" further clarifies the Arbitration Agreement in plain language:

This Agreement applies to any dispute, past, present[, ] or future that I have against BJ's, or that BJ's has against me, which could have been resolved in a court of law, arising out of or relating to any aspect of my job at BJ's, including but not limited to: my application for a job, my work at BJ's, or my separation from BJ's. I understand that this Agreement continues after my employment at BJ's ends. I understand that this Agreement does not change in any way my status as an "at will" employee of BJ's.

(Loudon Decl. at 5 ("Mutual Agreement to Arb." ¶ 1).)

         New BJ's employees have an opportunity to opt out of the Arbitration Agreement by completing an opt-out form and returning it to the BJ's Office of Open Door Solutions within 30 days. Neither party contests that Hawthorne did not opt out of the Arbitration Agreement.

         II. ...

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