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Kelly v. Alabama Title Loans, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 2, 2015

YVETTE KELLY, Plaintiff,


JAMES H. HANCOCK, Senior District Judge.

The court has before it the February 20, 2015 Motion (Doc. #12) to Compel Arbitration filed by Defendant Bessemer Title Pawn, Inc. d/b/a Alabama Title Loans ("Defendant"). The Motion (Doc. #12) has been fully briefed (Docs. #13, 17, 18) in accordance with the court's orders (Docs. #14, 16) of February 23, 2015 and March 12, 2015, and is now before the court for review.

I. Relevant Background and Facts

A. Procedural History

On December 23, 2014 Yvette Kelley ("Kelley" or "Plaintiff") filed this lawsuit against Bessemer Title Pawn, Inc. d/b/a Alabama Title Loans alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, as amended. ( See generally Compl.). Kelley alleges that her employment at Alabama Title Loans was terminated and/or that she was refused a transfer because of her race, African American.[1] ( See generally Compl.). On February 20, 2015, the date Defendant's Answer was due, Defendant filed the instant Motion (Doc. #12) to Compel Arbitration. The Motion (Doc. #12), as supported by the accompanying Memorandum of Law (Doc. #13), asserts that Plaintiff signed an Agreement to Arbitrate agreeing that any dispute relating to her employment would be resolved through arbitration. ( See Doc. #13 at 1, Exh. A).

B. The Arbitration Agreement

At the inception of her employment on August 4, 2011 with Alabama Title Loans, Kelley and Defendant mutually executed a written Arbitration Agreement (the "Agreement"). (Doc. #13, Exh. A). The Agreement provides:

Employer and Employee agree that all claims, controversies or disputes, whether they be statutory claims (including claims arising under federal, state, or local statutory claims for discrimination, wage, family leave benefits or other statutory employment law claims), or common law claims in contract and/or tort which arise out of or are related in any way to the employment relationship between the parties shall be resolved through binding arbitration in accordance with the procedures specified herein. Arbitration shall take place in the county of employment unless otherwise agreed in writing. However, either party may seek injunctive relief from a court of competent jurisdiction.

(Def. Exh. A). The Agreement further provides that "all questions regarding whether an issue is subject to arbitration shall be determined by the arbitrator, not a court of competent jurisdiction." (Id.)

II. Discussion

Defendant's Motion (Doc. #13) to Compel Arbitration asserts the following grounds for ordering the case to proceed under the terms of the Agreement: (1) that the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") governs the case; (2) that the Agreement is valid and binding; (3) that Plaintiff's claims are within the scope of the Agreement; and (4) that discrimination claims are arbitrable statutory claims. (Doc. #13 at 3-9). Plaintiff opposes the motion to compel arbitration and counters that the injunctive claims are not arbitrable. ( See Doc. #17 at 2). Plaintiff does not oppose arbitration of the non-injunctive damage claims. ( See Doc. #17 at 2). As to the injunctive claims, Defendant contends that the arbitrability of any claim is an issue for the arbitrator to decide and not the court. ( See Doc. # 18 at 3-5.)

A. The Federal Arbitration Act Governs the Case

There is no dispute that the arbitration agreement in this case is subject to the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. ("FAA"). ( See Doc. #17 at 4) (citing the FAA). The FAA carries with it certain standards applicable to this court's review of the pending motion.

"In enacting the FAA, Congress demonstrated a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements.'" MS Dealer Serv. Corp. v. Franklin, 177 F.3d 942, 947 (11th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). As such, "questions of arbitrability must be addressed with a healthy regard for the federal policy favoring arbitration." Franklin, 177 F.3d at 947. "By its terms, the Act leaves no place for the exercise of discretion by a district court, but instead mandates that district courts shall direct the parties to proceed to arbitration on issues as to which an arbitration agreement has been signed." Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v. Byrd, 470 U.S. 213, 218 (1985) (emphasis in original). Arbitration "should not be denied unless it may be said with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute." AT&T Techs., Inc. v. Communications Workers of America, 475 U.S. 643, 650 (1986). Pursuant to the FAA, a claim is arbitrable if the following three criteria are satisfied: (1) there is a valid agreement to arbitrate; (2) the claim falls within the scope of the agreement to arbitrate; and (3) the claim, ...

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