United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on Defendant Santa Fe Tobacco
Company's “Motion to Compel Arbitration and Dismiss
Plaintiff's Claims or, in the Alternative, Stay the
Proceedings.” (Doc. 16). Plaintiff Lawson's suit
claims that Santa Fe discriminated against her on the basis
of her race, color, and gender in violation of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, the court will
GRANT the motion to compel arbitration and DISMISS the case
Cassondra Lawson is an African-American female, who was
employed by Defendant Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, Inc.
from May 20, 2013, until December 19, 2016. (Docs. 7 at 3;
24-1 at 2). At that time, she was transferred to her current
position with RAI Trade Marketing Services
Company.(Doc. 24-1 at 2). As a condition of her
employment, Ms. Lawson entered into an arbitration agreement
with Reynolds American, Inc. and “its subsidiary and
affiliated companies” on April 3, 2013. (Id.
Agreement provides that by entering the agreement, Ms. Lawson
and RAI's subsidiaries (including Santa Fe) “waive
any right they may have to go to court and try covered claims
. . .before a judge or jury.” The Agreement further
states that Ms. Lawson's “employment . . . with the
Employer after the execution of this Agreement and any
promotion, transfer or other change in the terms and
conditions of employment constitute consideration for the
Agreement expressly provides that Ms. Lawson and Santa Fe
“agree and understand” that the Agreement
requires the parties to resolve all “Covered
Claims” through final and binding arbitration rather
than litigating their disputes in court. The Agreement
applies to any “Covered Claim” that arises or is
asserted during or after Ms. Lawson's employment. And
“Covered Claims” include all statutory claims,
including those alleging discrimination and retaliation. By
its own terms, the Agreement became effective on April 3,
Lawson does not dispute the arbitration agreement's
existence or its contents. Her argument against arbitrating
her claims rests solely on her contention that Santa Fe has
“unreasonably” delayed seeking arbitration and
“ignored their contractual obligation to resolve all
their dispute[s] with” Ms. Lawson through the
arbitration process that Santa Fe now seeks to compel. (Doc.
22 at 1). She further states that “Defendant has had
every opportunity for arbitration through the EEOC complaint
but the Defendant chose not to arbitrate because
discrimination in the workplace is not and has not been
important to them.” (Id.).
a party does not waive its right to arbitrate by failing to
raise the arbitration issue with the EEOC. Brown v. ITT
Consumer Fin. Corp., 211 F.3d 1217, 1222 (11th Cir.
2000). Rather, a party waives its right to arbitrate when it
substantially participates in litigation “to a point
inconsistent with an intent to arbitrate, which results in
prejudice to the other party.” Id. (internal
quotations omitted). And the Eleventh Circuit has recognized
that the other party is not “prejudiced” if the
demand for arbitration is made promptly after the lawsuit is
filed and the other party does not suffer delay or the
expenses of litigation. Id.
present case, Ms. Lawson perfected service of process on
Santa Fe on March 3, 2018. On March 6, 2018, Santa Fe's
counsel emailed Ms. Lawson the Arbitration Agreement and
requested that she stipulate to arbitration. (Doc. 24-2 at
12). Santa Fe filed its answer to Ms. Lawson's complaint
on March 15, 2018, in which it contested this court's
subject matter jurisdiction over the case “because
Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a valid and enforceable
arbitration agreement that covers all her claims against
Defendant.” (Doc. 14 at 2). Then, Santa Fe filed this
motion to compel arbitration on April 20, 2018. (Doc. 16).
Thus, Santa Fe did not delay in pursuing the arbitration of
Ms. Lawson's claims, and did not waive its right to
the parties voluntarily entered into a binding arbitration
agreement, Ms. Lawson's claims fall within the scope of
that agreement, and Santa Fe has not waived its right to
enforce that agreement, the court will GRANT
Santa Fe's motion to compel arbitration and will
DISMISS Ms. Lawson's claims
WITHOUT PREJUDICE. The court will enter a
separate Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.