Lawson v. RAI Services Company et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Chief Judge Karon O Bowdre on 5/17/18. (SAC )
2018 May-17 PM 03:04
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CASSONDRA MARIE LAWSON,
SANTA FE NATURAL
TOBACCO COMPANY, INC.,
Civil Action Number
This 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.
For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, the court
will GRANT the motion to compel arbitration and DISMISS the case WITHOUT
I. UNDISPUTED FACTS
Plaintiff 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.1
(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. at 6).
The 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.”
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
Defendant Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, Inc. and RAI Trade Marketing Services
Company are wholly owned subsidiaries of Reynolds American, Inc. (“RAI”). (Doc. 24-1 at 2).
own terms, the Agreement became effective on April 3, 2013.
Ms. 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.).
However, 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.
In the 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 pursue arbitration.
Because 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.
DONE this 17th day of May, 2018.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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