United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Bester and Nneka Gunn bring this putative class action
against Compass Bank d/b/a BBVA Compass for alleged
violations of the Equal Pay Act and § 1981 of the Civil
Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981. See doc.
1. This action is before the court on Compass's motion to
strike the class and collective actions claims and to compel
arbitration of the plaintiffs' individual claims. Doc. 9.
The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review, docs. 9, 12,
13, and is due to be granted solely as to Compass'
request to compel arbitration.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
presented with a motion to compel arbitration, the district
court must determine whether the arbitration agreement at
issue can be enforced against the parties who oppose
arbitration. Magnolia Capital Advisors, Inc. v. Bear
Stearns & Co., 272 Fed.Appx. 782, 785 (11th Cir.
2008) (citing Humphrey Co., 957 F.2d 851, 854 (11th
Cir. 1992)). The party opposing the motion must present
evidence that the arbitration agreement is not valid or does
not apply to the dispute in question. See Id.
(quoting Wheat, First Secs., Inc. v. Green, 993 F.2d
814, 819 (11th Cir. 1993)); Campbell v. CitiFinancial
Mortgage Co., Inc., No. CV-06-BE-0302-E, 2006 WL
8436895, at *1 (N.D. Ala. June 2, 2006) (citing Kenworth
of Birmingham, Inc. v. Langley, 828 So.2d 288, 290 (Ala.
2002)). A “summary judgment-like standard”
applies to motions to compel arbitration, and “a
district court may conclude as a matter of law that parties
did or did not enter into an arbitration agreement only if
‘there is no genuine dispute as to any material'
fact concerning the formation of such an agreement.”
Bazemore v. Jefferson Capital Sys., LLC, 827 F.3d
1325, 1333 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). As
with a motion for summary judgment, “‘conclusory
allegations without specific supporting facts have no
probative value' for a party” opposing a motion to
compel arbitration. Id. (quoting Leigh v. Warner
Bros., 212 F.3d 1210, 1217 (11th Cir. 2000)).
hired Bester and Gunn as contract analysts in August 2014 and
June 2016, respectively. Docs. 1 at 5; 9-1 at 3; 9-2 at 2.
When Bester and Gunn applied for employment, they each signed
an application containing an agreement to arbitrate any
potential claims “concerning any aspect of [their]
employment relationship or termination, ” and
acknowledging that “if [they are] selected for
employment . . ., [they] remain obligated to bring any claim
concerning [their] application[s] for employment, [their]
employment, or termination of [their] employment through the
Company Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy.” Docs.
9-1 at 3, 9-10; 9-2 at 3, 10.
addition, Compass maintains a policy called
“‘CARE: Communications, Answers and Resolution
for Employees Policy and Procedures, ” for resolving
disputes with its employees. See doc. 9-1 at 3, 12.
The CARE Policy provides, among other things, that “an
employee's agreement to submit disputes to arbitration is
a condition of employment for those hired on or after April
1, 2000, ” and that “[a]rbitration shall be the
final and exclusive forum for the resolution of all
employment-related disputes that are covered by the
Policy.” Doc. 9-1 at 3, 12, 14. After hiring Bester and
Gunn, Compass provided them access to its employee handbook,
which outlines the CARE Policy and states that the Policy
“is a contract.” Docs. 9-1 at 4, 27-28; 9-2 at 3,
13. Compass also trained Bester and Gunn about its code of
conduct, which provides that “[t]he use of alternative
dispute resolution and arbitration to resolve certain
employment-related disputes based on a legal claim is an
essential element of the employment relationship, and your
agreement to submit disputes based on a legal claim to
arbitration is a condition of employment for those hired on
or after April 1, 2000.” Docs. 9-1 at 3-4, 32, 35; 9-2
at 3, 13.
to Bester and Gunn, Compass' pay, performance evaluation,
and promotion practices disadvantage African-American and
female employees by among other things, paying them
significantly less than their Caucasian and male
counterparts. Doc. 1 at 8-10, 23-25. Bester and Gunn, who
allege that Compass has passed them over for promotions,
assert EPA and § 1981 claims individually and on behalf
of a class of female, African-American employees.
Id. at 10-11, 23-30.
moves to compel arbitration pursuant to the Federal
Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1,
et seq. Doc. 9. The FAA establishes that arbitration
agreements contained in contracts involving interstate
commerce are enforceable, 9 U.S.C. § 2, and
“embodies a ‘liberal federal policy favoring
arbitration agreements, '” Hill v.
Rent-A-Center, Inc., 398 F.3d 1286, 1288 (11th Cir.
2005) (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury
Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983)). “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
had been signed.” Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v.
Byrd, 470 U.S. 213, 218 (1985) (emphasis in original).
In addition, “as a matter of federal law, any doubts
concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved
in favor of arbitration . . . .” Moses H.
Cone Mem'l Hosp., 460 U.S. at 24-25.
federal policy favors arbitration agreements, “a party
cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which
he has not agreed to so submit, ” Steelworkers v.
Warrior & Gulf Nav. Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582 (1960),
and “[t]he threshold question of whether an arbitration
agreement exists at all is ‘simply a matter of
contract, '” Bazemore v. Jefferson Capital
Sys., LLC, 827 F.3d 1325, 1329 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting
First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S.
938, 943 (1995)). To determine whether parties agreed to
arbitrate a dispute, courts must consider (1) whether a valid
written agreement to arbitrate exists and (2) whether the
agreement encompasses the dispute. See Green Tree Fin.
Corp. v. Bazzle, 539 U.S. 444, 452 (2003). Finally,
federal courts generally apply state contract law to this
determination. First Options of Chicago, 514 U.S. at
Whether a valid arbitration agreement exists that
encompasses this action
argues that the arbitration agreement is a valid contract
that evidences a transaction involving interstate commerce,
and that the plaintiffs' claims are subject to
arbitration. Doc. 9 at 6-12. To support that argument,
Compass provides evidence that Bester and Gunn each signed an
arbitration agreement when they applied for employment; that
Compass maintains the CARE Policy for employee disputes,
which includes an arbitration agreement; and that Bester and
Gunn signed forms acknowledging that the CARE Policy is a
contract. See docs. 9-1; 9-2. In light of that
evidence, which Bester and Gunn do not dispute, a valid
arbitration agreement exists between the parties. See
Shaffer v. Regions Fin. Corp., 29 So.3d 872, 880 (2009)
(“The elements of a valid contract include: ‘an
offer and an acceptance, consideration, and mutual assent to
terms essential to the formation of a contract.'”)
(quoting Ex parte Grant, 711 So.2d 464, 465 (Ala.
1997)); Baptist Health System, Inc. v. Mack, 860
So.2d 1265, 1268, 1274 (Ala. 2003) (finding that an employee
is bound by the terms of a written arbitration policy when
the employee signed an acknowledgment that he received the
policy and assented to its term through continued
employment). In addition, the CARE Policy provides that
“both Compass and the employee agree to arbitrate all
claims that arise or involve a claim under any federal . . .
statute . . . regarding or relating to matters of employment,
[or] employment discrimination . . . including, but not
limited to . . . the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and all
applicable amendments . . . .” Doc. 9-1 at 14. Based on
that language, the plaintiffs' § 1981 and EPA claims
fall squarely within the scope of the arbitration agreement-a
contention that Bester and Gunn do not dispute, see
Whether Compass can enforce the ...