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Castro v. Southern Technical Holdings, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

April 13, 2018

JESSICA CASTRO, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTHERN TECHNICAL HOLDINGS, LLC and SOUTHERN TECHNICAL INSTITUTE, LLC, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          THOMAS B. SMITH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Compel Arbitration and to Stay Discovery and Rule 26 requirements (Doc 21). Plaintiff has not filed a response to the motion and the time within to do so has expired. When a party fails to respond, that is an indication that the motion is unopposed. Foster v. The Coca-Cola Co., No. 6:14-cv-2102-Orl-40TBS, 2015 WL 3486008, at *1 (M.D. Fla. June 2, 2015); Jones v. Bank of Am., N .A., 564 Fed.Appx. 432, 434 (11th Cir. 2014)[1] (citing Kramer v. Gwinnett Cty., Ga., 306 F.Supp.2d 1219, 1221 (N.D.Ga. 2004); Daisy, Inc. v. Polio Operations, Inc., No. 2:14-cv-564-FtM-38CM, 2015 WL 2342951, at *1 (M.D. Fla. May 14, 2015) (when defendant did not respond court could consider motion to compel unopposed); Brown v. Platinum Wrench Auto Repair, Inc., No. 8:10-cv-2168-T-33TGW, 2012 WL 333803, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 1, 2012) (after party failed to respond, court treated motion for summary judgment as unopposed). As Plaintiff has raised no objection to the facts presented in the motion or the relief sought, and the motion is otherwise meritorious, it is respectfully recommended that the motion be GRANTED.

         Background

         Originally filed in the Southern District of Florida and transferred here, this is an action for claimed civil rights violations. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Southern Technical Holdings, LLC, and Southern Technical Institute, LLC collectively operate a for-profit educational institution known as “Southern Technical College.” (Doc. 1, ¶¶47, 50). Plaintiff was hired by Defendants in October 2015 and worked for them until her termination on February 11, 2016 (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 25, 35). She claims that Defendants terminated her employment because of her pregnancy, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978; and the Florida Civil Rights Act, Fla. Stat. § 760.01, et seq.

         The instant motion seeks to compel arbitration pursuant to Section 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 4, and to stay discovery and compliance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 requirements. The motion incorporates the Affidavit of Dr. Lori Moran, with attached exhibits (Doc. 5 at 13-20). According to Dr. Moran, when Plaintiff was hired, the College leased its employees from Strategic Outsourcing, Inc. (“SOI”), which administered the College's payroll and benefits packages (Doc. 5, p. 14, ¶ 4). Individuals hired to work for the College were required to complete SOI New Employee forms and to enter into an Agreement to Arbitrate disputes arising out of or relating to their employment or termination of employment. (Id.). Plaintiff completed an SOI employment application on or about September 17, 2015, to work for the College at its Orlando campus (Doc. 5, p. 2, ¶ 5, and p. 17). Just above Plaintiff's signature, the application states:

I understand that, as a condition of employment I may be required to sign … an arbitration agreement and I hereby agree to arbitrate all disputes regarding my application for employment and any employment related matters rather than resolving them in court or other forum.

(Doc. 5, p. 2, ¶ 5, and p. 17). Plaintiff also signed an Agreement to Arbitrate (Doc. 5, p. 18). The Agreement to Arbitrate is included in an “ASSIGNED EMPLOYEE NOTICE & ACKNOWLEDGMENTS” form, signed by Plaintiff, which states:

The organization for which you perform services (Company) has contracted for SOI to provide services under which you will be paid through SOI for work you perform for and under the direction of Company ….
. . . .
I and SOI agree that: Any dispute involving SOI [or] Company … arising from or relating to my employment, application for employment, or termination from employment will be resolved exclusively through binding arbitration before a neutral arbitrator. … In addition, I AND SOI MUTUALLY WAIVE ANY RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL. … . My agreements to arbitrate, waive jury trials and participate only in my individual capacity are agreements under the Federal Arbitration Act and any other laws validating such agreements and waivers.

(Doc. 5, p. 14, ¶ 6, and p. 18).

         Discussion

         The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., is the substantive law controlling the validity and enforcement of arbitration agreements. Caley v. Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., 428 F.3d 1359, 1367 (11th Cir. 2005) (noting that the FAA “generally applies to contracts of employment.”) It preempts state law to the extent state law treats agreements to arbitrate differently than other contracts. Id. The FAA “embodies the national policy favoring arbitration and places arbitration agreements on equal footing with all other contracts.” Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 443 (2006). Under the FAA, agreements to arbitrate are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of the contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2.

         Whether the parties entered into an agreement to arbitrate is ordinarily an issue for judicial determination. Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 288 (2010). In deciding whether the parties agreed to arbitration, the Court applies state law governing the formation of contracts, while at the same time considering the federal policy favoring arbitration. Caley, 428 F.3d at 1367-68. When deciding a motion to compel arbitration, courts consider three factors: “(1) whether a valid written agreement to arbitrate exists, (2) whether an arbitrable issue exists, and (3) whether the right to arbitration has been waived.” Zahm v. OneWest Bank, N.A., No. 8:15-cv-765-T-30TBM, 2015 WL 2095644, at *1 (M.D. Fla. May 5, 2015) (citing Cuningham Hamilton Quiter, P.A.,776 So.2d 940, 942 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000)); see also Dukes v. Sai Fort Myers B, LLC, No. 2:14-CV-287-FTM-38, 2015 WL 3650804, at *2 (M.D. Fla. June 11, 2015). “‘All questions concerning scope or waiver of the right to arbitrate under contracts should be ...


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