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Rancher v. Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc.

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

March 5, 2018



          L. Scott Coogler United States District Judge

          Plaintiff Latesia Rancher (“Ms. Rancher”) brings this action against Defendant Brookdale Senior Living Inc. (“Brookdale”), alleging that Brookdale violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by discriminating against her on the basis of race and retaliating against her for engaging in a protected activity. Before this Court is Brookdale's motion compel arbitration. (Doc. 8.) For reasons explained more fully herein, the motion is due to be granted.

         I. Background[1]

         Ms. Rancher is an African-American female who began working with Brookdale in April 2013. As part of its employee onboarding process, Brookdale requires all employees to agree to an E-Signature Agreement, in which the employee authorizes and agrees to use electronic signatures[2] instead of ink signatures on their employment forms. On April 3, 2013, Ms. Rancher executed the E-Signature Agreement. (Doc. 8-1, Ex. 1.)

         As a condition of employment, Brookdale requires all employees to enter into an Employment Binding Arbitration Agreement (“Agreement”), which they electronically sign. (Doc. 8-1, Ex. 2.) The Agreement states that both Brookdale and Ms. Rancher “will be precluded from bringing or raising in court . . . any dispute” that could be brought under the Agreement. (Doc. 8-1, Ex. 2 at 7.) In the “Claims Covered” provision, it lists “claims for discrimination” which includes racial discrimination as a listed item. (Id.) Additionally, the Agreement grants the arbitrator power to award remedies that a court would award for alleged violations and wrongdoings, including remedies under Title VII. (Id.) The Agreement also contains this provision:

The parties agree that the costs of the AAA administrative fees and the arbitrator's fees and expenses will be paid for us initially, but as provided by statute or decision of the arbitrator.[3] In other words, all costs could after all is complete be paid by us or you, depending upon the outcome. All other costs and expenses associated with the arbitration, including, without limitation, the party's respective attorneys' fees, shall be borne by the party incurring the expense, unless provided otherwise by statute or decision of the arbitrator.

(Id. at 8.) The Agreement ends with this provision, just above the signature line:

By initialing the box below, you indicate your agreement to the terms set forth above…We both understand that by agreeing to the terms in this Procedure, both of us are giving up any constitutional or statutory right we may possess to have covered claims decided in a court of law before a judge or a jury.

(Id. at 9 (bolded text in original.))

         On April 4, 2013, Ms. Rancher also electronically signed Brookdale's Associate Handbook Receipt and Acknowledgement (“Acknowledgement”) (Doc 8-1, Ex. 3.) The Acknowledgement included this provision: “I agree to Brookdale's Employment Binding Arbitration policy regarding any disputes that arise between Brookdale and me and I agree to arbitrate the dispute by a final binding arbitration.” (Id.)

         Following various incidents, Ms. Rancher filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on February 24, 2017. On March 8, 2017, the EEOC mailed Ms. Rancher a Notice of Right to Sue, and she timely brought suit on June 6, 2017. (Doc. 1.) Brookdale then filed its motion to stay proceedings and compel arbitration on July 17, 2017. (Doc. 8.)

         II. Standard of Review

         The standard of review for a motion seeking to compel arbitration is analogous to a summary judgment motion. See In re Checking Account Overdraft Litig., 754 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir. 2014) (describing an order compelling arbitration as “summary-judgment-like” because it is “in effect a summary disposition of the issue of whether or not there has been a meeting of the minds on the agreement to arbitrate”) (citations omitted); see also Fleetwood Enterprises, Inc. v. Bruno, 784 So.2d 277, 280 (Ala. 2000). Where the “movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, ” a court shall grant a motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is material “if, under the applicable substantive law, it might affect the outcome of the case.” Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1259 (11th Cir. 2004). A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists where “the nonmoving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor.” Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).

         III. ...

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