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Ellison v. American Homes 4 Rent, LP

United States District Court, D. Nevada

December 27, 2019

ANNIE D. ELLISON, Plaintiff(s),
v.
AMERICAN HOMES 4 RENT, LP, Defendant(s).

          ORDER

         Presently before the court is defendant American Homes 4Rent's (“AH4R”) motion to compel arbitration. (ECF No. 23). Plaintiff Annie Ellison filed a response (ECF No. 28), to which AH4R replied (ECF No. 31).

         Also before the court is AH4R's motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, stay. (ECF No. 23). Ellison filed a response (ECF No. 28), to which AH4R replied (ECF No. 31).

         I. Background

         The instant action arises from a disagreement over the validity of a contract between the parties to arbitrate employment-related disputes. (ECF Nos. 23, 28). The parties allege the following:

On April 10, 2016, Ellison submitted a signed application for employment to AH4R. (ECF No. 23). The application included an agreement to arbitrate “any controversy, dispute, or claim” between an employee of AH4R and AH4R or its affiliates/subsidiaries/etc. (ECF No. 23-3). AH4R subsequently sent an offer letter to Ellison, which she accepted on May 3, 2016. (ECF Nos. 23, 28). The offer letter stated that “this letter is not intended to be a contract and your employment is at-will” and that AH4R “uses arbitration to settle disputes and all employees are required to sign our arbitration agreement upon hire.” (ECF No. 23-4).

         On May 22, 2016, Ellison electronically signed AH4R's arbitration agreement (“2016 arbitration agreement”) through the AH4R University program, a computer-based training system. (ECF Nos. 23-5, 28). The 2016 arbitration agreement provides, in relevant part, that “Employee and Company agree that any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to Employee's employment with Company, shall be exclusively and finally settled by arbitration, ” and that “[t]his arbitration provision includes (but is not limited to) all claims” for unlawful discrimination (including race, color, religion, sex, and national origin). (ECF Nos. 23-5). The 2016 arbitration agreement also requires any arbitration proceedings to be held in Los Angeles, California and to be conducted pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure 1283.05. Id.

         On May 31, 2016, Ellison commenced employment with AH4R as a staff attorney. (ECF Nos. 23, 28). In April 2017, AH4R issued a revised arbitration agreement (“2017 arbitration agreement”) and employee handbook. (ECF Nos. 23, 28). The 2017 arbitration agreement mirrors its 2016 counterpart in many regards-including the requirement that disputes related to unlawful discrimination be arbitrated-but there are also several revised terms. (ECF No. 23-9). Notably, the 2017 arbitration agreement's location provision was revised to require any arbitration to be conducted “in or near the city or town where Employee's employment services were performed, at the Company headquarters, or at any other location mutually agreed upon by Employee and Company or set by the AAA or arbitrator.” Id.

         The employee handbook references the 2017 arbitration agreement as follows: “At time of hire, you will be required to sign and return an arbitration agreement as a condition of employment.” (ECF No. 28-4). The employee handbook also states that AH4R “reserves the right to change or revise policies, procedures, and benefits (other than the employment-at-will provision) without prior notice whenever we determine that such action is warranted” and that “[t]his handbook replaces all earlier handbooks and supersedes all prior or inconsistent policies, practices, and procedures.” (ECF No. 28).

         In order to receive a salary increase and monetary bonus, Ellison was required to acknowledge the 2017 arbitration agreement through the AH4R University program by January 5, 2018. (ECF No. 23, 23-6). Although Ellison disputes that she signed the 2017 arbitration agreement (ECF No. 28), AH4R has submitted a “course activity summary” from the AH4R University program indicating that Ellison's unique login was used on January 5, 2018 to acknowledge the 2017 arbitration agreement (ECF No. 23-11).

         Ellison initiated this action on June 28, 2019. (ECF No. 1). On July 10, 2019, Ellison filed an amended complaint against AH4R alleging two causes of action: (1) race discrimination in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and (2) retaliatory discharge in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (ECF No. 9).

         Now, AH4R moves to compel arbitration of Ellison's claims. (ECF No. 23). AH4R also moves to dismiss, or in the alternative, stay Ellison's claims pending resolution of the arbitration. Id.

         II. Legal Standard

         The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) provides for the enforcement of arbitration agreements in any contract affecting interstate commerce. 9 U.S.C. § 2; AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011). A party to an arbitration agreement can invoke his or her rights under the FAA by petitioning federal courts to direct that “arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in such agreement.” 9 U.S.C. § 4. When courts grant a petition to compel arbitration, the FAA requires stay of litigation “until such arbitration has been had[.]” Id. at § 3.

         The FAA embodies a clear policy in favor of arbitration. AT&T Mobility, 563 U.S. at 339. Courts must rigorously enforce arbitration agreements. Hall Street Assoc., L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, 582 (2008). “[A]ny doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration.” See Simula, Inc. v. Autoliv, Inc., 175 F.3d 716, 719 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983)). The FAA leaves no place for courts to ...


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