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Smiley v. Forcepoint Federal, LLC

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

November 5, 2018

JEFFREY A. SMILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
FORCEPOINT FEDERAL, LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION

          John A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on the defendant's motion to compel arbitration. The plaintiff, Jeffrey Smiley, alleges that the defendant, Forcepoint Federal, LLC ("Forcepoint"), discriminated against him in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"). Relying on an arbitration clause in Smiley's employment contract, Forcepoint has filed a motion to compel arbitration.

         The Court will grant Forcepoint's motion. Smiley must pursue his claims in arbitration because (1) the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") encompasses the arbitration provision in the employment contract, and (2) Forcepoint has not engaged in undue delay or burdened Smiley such that it has defaulted on its right to compel arbitration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Smiley, a fifty-year-old white man, worked for Forcepoint as a salesman. In this case, he says that Forcepoint engaged in a pattern of disparate treatment in favor of younger, female client executives. In support of that theory, Smiley claims that Forcepoint redirected established client accounts from older, male client executives to their younger, female colleagues and failed to discipline younger, female employees for poor performance. Because of this practice, Forcepoint eventually fired Smiley for failing to generate revenue.

         Approximately seven months after Smiley filed his complaint, Forcepoint filed this motion to compel arbitration on July 30, 2018. (Dk. No. 16.) Before Forcepoint filed this motion, Forcepoint had filed a motion for extension of time to file an answer, an answer, a proposed discovery plan, a motion for extension of time to respond to a discovery motion, a response in opposition to a motion to compel discovery, and a motion for entry of an agreed protective order. Forcepoint filed no dispositive motions before moving to compel arbitration.

         Forcepoint argues that the arbitration clause in Smiley's employment agreement prevents him from asserting his claims in this Court. The arbitration provision of the Agreement provides, I. ARBITRATION.

In the event of any controversy or dispute between you and the Company or between you and any affiliate or an agent of Company ... as to all or any part of this Agreement, any other agreement, or any dispute or controversy whatsoever pertaining to or arising out of the relationship between you and the Company or the dissolution or termination of same (collectively, "Arbitrable Disputes") shall, subject to Section 11.1 herein, be resolved exclusively by binding arbitration solely between yourself and the Company conducted in Virginia, which shall be conducted in accordance with the procedures set forth in the Dispute Resolution Addendum appended hereto as Schedule 2 (the "Addendum"), all of which are incorporated into this Agreement. All Arbitrable Disputes under this Agreement must be brought in your individual capacity, and not as a plaintiff or class member in any purposed class or representative proceeding.

(Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Compel Arbitration, Ex. A, ¶ 10.)

         Smiley responds that the arbitration agreement is "ambiguous, non-mutual and unconscionable," and asks the Court to delay ruling on this motion until the parties conduct discovery regarding the employment agreement. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp. to Mot. Compel Arbitration 1.) Citing Forcepoint's failure to include the arbitration clause as an affirmative defense in its answer, Smiley has also filed a motion for attorney's fees.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The FAA reflects "a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements." Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983); see 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16. This policy stems from Congress's position that "arbitration constitutes a more efficient dispute resolution process than litigation." Adkins v. Labor Ready, Inc., 303 F.3d 496, 500 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Hightower v. GMRI, Inc., 272 F.3d 239, 241 (4th Cir.2001)). Accordingly, "due regard must be given to the federal policy favoring arbitration, and ambiguities as to the scope of the arbitration clause itself resolved in favor of arbitration." Volt Info. Scis., Inc. v. Bd. of Trs. of Leland Stanford Jr. Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 475-76 (1989).

         Recognizing the FAA's purpose to "reverse the longstanding judicial hostility to arbitration agreements ... and to place arbitration agreements upon the same footing as other contracts," the Supreme Court has enforced arbitration agreements when a plaintiff asserts federal statutory claims. Green Tree Fin. Corp.-Ala. v. Randolph, 531 U.S. 79, 89 (2000) (citing Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20, 24 (1991)). The Fourth Circuit has held that "the provisions of the FAA ... apply to employment agreements to arbitrate discrimination claims brought pursuant to federal statutes, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act." Murray v. United Food & Commercial Workers Int'l Union, 289 F.3d 297, 302 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U.S. 105, 109 (2001); Hooters of Am., Inc. v. Phillips, 173 F.3d 933, 937 (4th Cir. 1999)).

         A. ...


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