United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
Bryan Harwell United States District Judge.
action arises from Plaintiff's allegations that his
former employer, Education Corporation of America, violated
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e
et. seq. as amended (“Title VII”), in
the form of sex discrimination, retaliation, as well as
allegations against Defendant leading to a defamation
claim. This lawsuit was initially filed in state
court but removed to federal court on June 29, 2018. [ECF
#1]. Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to
Compel Arbitration. [ECF #5]. Plaintiff filed his response to
this motion on July 13, 2018. [ECF #8]. Defendant filed its
reply on July 20, 2018. [ECF #10]. In accordance with 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02
(D.S.C.) this matter was referred to a Magistrate Judge for
pretrial handling. This matter is now before the Court after
issuance of the Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) of United States Magistrate Judge
Kaymani D. West. [ECF #15]. In the R&R, the Magistrate
Judge recommends granting Defendant's motion. This matter
is now before the Court for disposition. For the following
reasons, the Court grants Defendant's
motion.[2" name="FN2" id=
and Procedural Background
According to the allegations within the Complaint, Dr. Oyekan
began working as an instructor for Defendant Education
Corporation of America's medical assistant program around
July of 2012. Dr. Oyekan alleges that he was the recipient of
harsh and unfair treatment throughout his employment by
female supervisors who discriminated against him based on his
sex. Dr. Oyekan alleges once he began reporting this unfair
treatment to Defendant, he was retaliated against, and
ultimately terminated on May 19, 2016, for reasons that were
false and/or pretextual. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed this
lawsuit, alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title
VII, retaliation in violation of Title VII, and a state law
claim for defamation. This case was removed to federal court
on June 29, 2018, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because
Plaintiff alleges violations of a federal law, and the state
law claim falls under the supplemental jurisdiction of this
Court. Defendant also removed this case pursuant to diversity
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1441.
29, 2018, Defendant also filed a Motion to Compel
Arbitration. [ECF #5]. In support of its motion, Defendant
argues that Dr. Oyekan executed an Arbitration Agreement on
September 17, 2015, that requires him to arbitrate these
claims. [ECF #5-2, pp. 1-2; ECF #5-1, Ex A]. The Arbitration
Agreement was attached as an exhibit to the Declaration of
Kerenna Jones, a paralegal and employee of Defendant. [ECF
#5-1. Ex. A]. Defendant further states that Dr. Oyekan
executed a New Employee Handbook and Arbitration Policy
acknowledgment on September 17, 2015, which is also attached
to the Declaration of Ms. Jones. [ECF #5-1, Ex. B]. The
Arbitration Agreement (the “Agreement”) provides
that the parties agree that any dispute, controversy or claim
“arising out of or related to this Agreement, the
employment relationship between the parties, or the
termination of the employment relationship shall be resolved
by binding arbitration.” [ECF #5-1, Ex. A]. Further,
the Agreement specifically provides that it includes claims
under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” [ECF #5-1, Ex. A].
Finally, the Agreement states that the parties waive their
right to have any dispute, claim, or controversy decided by a
judge or jury in a court.” [ECF #5-1, Ex. A]. Defendant
therefore argues that pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act
and Rule 12(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
Plaintiff's claims are subject to arbitration pursuant to
the express terms of the Arbitration Agreement. Defendant
further seeks its attorneys fees and costs associated with
the filing of this motion because it asserts that it provided
Plaintiff's counsel with a copy of the Agreement and
requested Plaintiff consent to arbitration in order to avoid
the expense of motion practice.
argues that the Acknowledgment of Handbook and Policies,
which contains language stating that the provisions within
the handbook do not create a contract between Defendant and
its employees undermines the validity of Defendant's
argument that the Agreement is a contract. Further, Plaintiff
argues that because Defendant's policies are one-sided
and Plaintiff was in a substantially weaker bargaining
position than Defendant, the Agreement is unconscionable.
Finally, Plaintiff argues that Defendant's voluntary
removal to federal court waived its ability to seek
arbitration of Plaintiff's claims.
the R&R, the Magistrate Judge considered Plaintiff's
arguments but ultimately recommended that the motion be
granted. Plaintiff filed objections to the recommendation,
raising the same arguments he raised in response to the
motion. Plaintiff again argues that the Agreement is not
contractual, the Agreement is unconscionable, and that
Defendant waived arbitration by removing this action to
federal court. Defendant responded to the objections,
pointing out that Plaintiff merely restated his prior
arguments and does not provide any reason to reject the
R&R. On December 14, 2018, this case was stayed by Order
of the Magistrate Judge in light of the express terms of an
Order issued by the Middle District of Georgia. [ECF #24].
The stay was lifted on February 4, 2019. [ECF #32].
I. Review of the Magistrate Judge's
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the district
court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
district court. Mathews v. Weber, 23 U.S. 261');">423 U.S. 261,
270-71 (1976). The district court is charged with making a
de novo determination of those portions of the
R&R to which specific objection is made, and the court
may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the
matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
district court is obligated to conduct a de novo
review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge's report
to which objections have been filed. Id. However,
the court need not conduct a de novo review when a
party makes only “general and conclusory objections
that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the
[M]agistrate's proposed findings and
recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d
44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The Court reviews only for clear
error in the absence of a specific objection. See Diamond
v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416
F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).
Review of the Motion to Compel
Defendant filed its Motion to Compel Arbitration pursuant to
the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) 9 U.S.C.
§§ 3 and 4, as well as the Agreement. The FAA
evidences a liberal federal policy that favors arbitration
agreements. Adkins v. Labor Ready, Inc., 303 F.3d
496, 500 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem'l
Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983)).
Sections 3 and 4 of the FAA provide two parallel methods for
enforcing an arbitration agreement: (1) an order staying
litigation in matters raising a dispute referable to
arbitration; or (2) an order compelling arbitration.
Chorley Enters. v. Dickey's Barbecue Rests.
Inc., 807 F.3d 553, 563 (4th Cir. 2015). Courts will
compel arbitration under Section 4 if: (1) the parties
entered into a valid agreement to arbitrate claims; and (2)
the dispute or claims in question fall within the scope of
the arbitration agreement. Id. In order to determine
whether the parties agreed to arbitrate, ordinary state law
principles govern the issue of contract formation. Am.
Gen. Life & Acc. Ins. Co. v. Wood, 29 F.3d 83');">429 F.3d 83, 87
(4th Cir. 2005) (citing First Options of Chicago, Inc. v.
Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944 (1995)). The standard of
review for a motion to compel arbitration is akin to the
burden on summary judgment. Chorley, 807 F.3d at
564. In considering a motion to compel arbitration, a court
may consider matters outside the pleadings. Witness
Insecurity, LLC v. Hale, No. 5:12-CV-293-JG, 2013 WL
12162297, at *3 (E.D. N.C. Sept. 27, 2013).
additionally styles the motion as a motion to dismiss the
pleading pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure. Rule 12(b)(3) permits a party to file a
motion to dismiss for improper venue. Pee Dee Health
Care, P.A. v. Sanford, 204');">509 F.3d 204, 209 (4th Cir.
2007). When a defendant raises its motion pursuant to Rule
12(b)(3), the plaintiff bears the burden of proving ...