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Hulwick v. Cbocs East, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

June 11, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc.'s, [1]Motion to Compel Arbitration and to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint [ECF No. 28] filed on April 30, 2018. Plaintiff Heather Hulwick filed her Response [ECF No. 38] on May 21, 2018, and the Defendant filed its Reply [ECF No. 41] on June 4, 2018. At issue is whether the Plaintiff is subject to an Arbitration Agreement that the Defendant's records indicate that she signed. This matter is now fully briefed and ripe for review.


         The Plaintiff applied for employment with the Defendant on February 16, 2005, and was hired as a manager for the Defendant. The Plaintiff worked for the Defendant for approximately twelve years prior to her discharge on October 16, 2016. The Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), which issued a Notice of Right to Sue on July 12, 2017, after which she filed this action. The Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant unlawfully discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12111 et seq. and the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and retaliated against her for filing a claim of sexual harassment with the EEOC. (See Compl. ¶¶ 4-6.)

         In 2015, an Arbitration Agreement was presented to the Defendant's employees via the Cracker Barrel University (“CBU”) online training program. In order to access the CBU training modules, each employee needed to use a unique access code. The Arbitration Agreement is contained within the Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) module, and the employee is given the opportunity to review, read, and agree to comply with the Arbitration Agreement. After the Arbitration Agreement is presented to the employee, the employee is instructed to close the document and click “Mark Complete.” Once the employee clicks the “Mark Complete” button, CBU records the date and time that the employee completed the module and acknowledged the Arbitration Agreement.

         The Defendant's records indicate that the Plaintiff completed the ADR module on November 5, 2015, at 5:36 A.M. Thus, the Defendant argues that the Plaintiff's claims are subject to the provisions of the Arbitration Agreement. The Plaintiff asserts that she never logged in to CBU on November 5, 2015, much less reviewed and marked complete the ADR module. The Plaintiff theorizes that somebody else used her password, which she asserts was posted in a place that all management employees could access, in order to log into CBU and mark complete the ADR module. She contends that such action would be consistent with the pressure that the general manager would feel to ensure that each employee successfully completed the training modules.


         The burden to avoid compelled arbitration is analogous to that required to successfully oppose summary judgment under Rule 56. See Tinder v. Pinkerton Sec., 305 F.3d 728, 735 (7th Cir. 2002). That is, “the opposing party must demonstrate that a genuine issue of material fact warranting a trial exists.” Id. “Just as in summary judgment proceedings, a party cannot avoid compelled arbitration by generally denying the facts upon which the right to arbitration rests; the party must identify specific evidence in the record demonstrating a material factual dispute for trial.” Id. The Court notes that the summary judgment standard is appropriate also because the parties have presented matters outside the pleadings in support of their arguments. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).


         Whether parties are contractually bound to arbitrate, and what issues they are bound to arbitrate, are matters to be determined by the Court. See Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 296 (2010). The parties must have agreed to submit the disputes to arbitration because the arbitration agreement is the source of the arbitrator's authority to resolve those disputes, and a party may not be forced to arbitrate any dispute that the party did not agree to arbitrate. See AT&T Techs., Inc. v. Comm's Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 648-49 (1986).

         The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) applies to employment agreements. See Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U.S. 105, 119 (2001). Courts must be mindful that the FAA “is a congressional declaration of a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements and that questions of arbitrability must be addressed with a healthy regard for the federal policy favoring arbitration.” Cont'l Cas., Co. v. Am. Nat'l Ins. Co., 417 F.3d 727, 730 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal quotations omitted). The FAA provides:

A written provision in any . . . contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction . . . 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. Under the FAA, “arbitration may be compelled if the following three elements are shown: a written agreement to arbitrate, a dispute within the scope of the arbitration agreement, and a refusal to arbitrate.” Zurich Am. Ins. Co. v. Watts Indus., Inc., 417 F.3d 682, 687 (7th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). It appears that the dispute in this case centers on the first element, i.e., whether there is a written agreement to arbitrate between the parties. There does not appear to be a dispute that the Plaintiff's claims would be subject to the arbitration agreement if it is enforceable, and it is evident that there is a refusal to arbitrate.

         In determining whether there is an enforceable arbitration agreement, the Court must look to state law. See First Options of Chi., Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944 (1995). “Indiana courts apply ordinary contract principles to arbitration agreements.” Gibson v. Neighborhood Health Clinics, Inc., 121 F.3d 1126, 1130 (7th Cir. 1997). As the party opposing arbitration, it is the Plaintiff's burden to establish a genuine issue of material fact that requires a fact-finder to decide the issue. She cannot meet this burden by ...

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