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Hudson v. BAH Shoney's Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

April 11, 2017

TAMIKA HUDSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BAH SHONEY'S CORPORATION, d/b/a SHONEY'S RESTAURANT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ALETA A. TRAUGER United States District Judge.

         Before the court is the Motion to Compel Arbitration and to Stay All Proceedings (Doc. No. 12) filed by defendant BAH Shoney's Corp.[1] (“BAH” or “defendant”). Plaintiff Tamika Hudson has filed a Response opposing the motion (Doc. No. 22), along with a supporting Memorandum (Doc. No. 23) and Corrected Affidavit (Doc. No. 27). The defendant filed a Reply (Doc. No. 24). For the reasons set forth herein, the defendant's motion will be denied.

         I. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Tamika Hudson was hired on May 31, 2014 as a cashier at a Shoney's Restaurant operated by the defendant. She alleges that her supervisor subjected her to sexual harassment and a sexually hostile work environment beginning immediately after she was hired and continuing despite numerous complaints directly to her shift leader, assistant manager, and BAH's Human Resources Department. She filed an EEOC Charge on October 31, 2013, after which, she alleges, she was subjected to retaliation, culminating in her retaliatory discharge on March 19, 2014.

         The plaintiff filed her Complaint on November 22, 2016 (Doc. No. 1), asserting claims of discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and state law. In lieu of an answer, BHA has filed its Motion to Compel Arbitration and To Stay All Proceedings. (Doc. No. 12.)

         In support of its motion, BAH submitted the Declaration of Catherine Hite (Doc. No. 14-1), currently BAH Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Shoney's; the Shoney's Restaurant Team Member Employee Handbook (“Employee Handbook”) (Doc. No. 14-2); and an Employee Acknowledgment (Doc. No. 14-3) executed by the plaintiff on May 31, 2013. In her Declaration, Hite avers that, when BAH hires new employees, it provides them with a copy of the Employee Handbook, which contains the company's Arbitration Policy and Procedures (“Arbitration Policy”). (Hite Decl. ¶ 4; Employee Handbook § 108, Doc. No. 14-2, at 11-15.)

         The second paragraph of the Arbitration Policy states, in boldface:

THIS IS A LEGALLY BINDING AGREEMENT: By accepting employment at BAH, and by continuing your employment with BAH, after you have been provided a copy of or otherwise received notice of this Arbitration Policy and Procedures, you and BAH consent to and accept all of the terms of the Arbitration Policy and Procedures. The terms of this Arbitration Policy and Procedures are conditions of your employment.

(Doc. No. 14-2, at 11.) The Arbitration Policy thereafter provides that proceeding under the Arbitration Policy “shall be the exclusive, final and binding method by which employment related legal disputes are resolved. . . . BAH and its employees shall have no right to litigate a dispute in any other forum.” (Id. at 12.) More specifically, it provides that all claims “arising from or related to the employee's employment relationship with BAH, ” including-but not limited to-claims arising from allegations of discrimination based on sex, sexual harassment, and retaliation for exercising legal rights, must be resolved through arbitration. (Id.)

         The Arbitration Policy states that the Arbitration Policy itself, as embodied in § 108 of the Employee Handbook, constitutes the complete agreement between employee and employer regarding arbitration. (Id. at 13.) The Arbitration Policy then describes the procedures governing arbitration and covers such matters as the allocation of fees, costs, and attorneys' fees, and appellate procedure. (Id. at 13-15.) Finally, the provision states that the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), Title 9 of the United States Code, “will govern the interpretation, enforcement, and all other judicial proceedings under and/or with respect to this Arbitration Policy and Procedures.” (Id. at 15.)

         The Employee Acknowledgement is a one-page document consisting of four paragraphs. By signing it, a newly hired employee acknowledges receipt of the Employee Handbook and purportedly consents to be bound by BAH's Arbitration Policy contained therein:

Employee's Acknowledgment of Receipt of Shoney's Restaurants' Arbitration Policy and Procedures. I have been provided a copy of the Shoney's Restaurants' Arbitration Policy and Procedures contained in the Employee Handbook. The updated document is available for review on the Centernet. I understand that the Arbitration Policy and Procedures is a binding contract between me and BAH Shoney's Corp. d/b/a Shoney's Restaurants and that it is a condition of my employment and of my continued and future employment with BAH Shoney's Corp. d/b/a Shoney's Restaurants. I further understand that, by continuing my employment with BAH Shoney's Corp. d/b/a Shoney's Restaurants, I agree to submit to binding arbitration under Shoney's Restaurants' Arbitration Policy and Procedures of any and all claims, disputes or controversies that exist now or arise later between me and BAH . . . .

(Doc. No. 14-3.) The Employee Acknowledgment submitted by BAH was signed by Tamika Hudson on May 31, 2013. (Id.)

         In her Corrected Affidavit, the plaintiff describes the circumstances under which she was employed by BAH and signed the Employee Acknowledgment.[2] She alleges that she filled out an application on May 25, 2013, at a time when she “needed any job and was desperate” to work to support herself and her newborn baby. (Doc. No. 27 ¶¶ ...


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