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Walker v. Red Lobster Restaurants, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

June 30, 2015

GREG WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
RED LOBSTER RESTAURANTS, LLC; DARDEN, RESTAURANTS, INC.; GRMI, INC., AND JOHN AND JANE DOES 1-8, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

CARLTON W. REEVES, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants GMRI, Inc. d/b/a Red Lobster ("GMRI") (improperly identified in the caption of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint as GRMI, Inc.) and Darden Restaurants, Inc.'s ("Darden") motion to compel arbitration, Docket No. 15. Plaintiff Gregg Walker filed an opposing response, Docket No. 17, to which the Defendants have submitted a rebuttal, Docket No. 19. On June 24, 2015, a hearing was held on Defendants' motion. The matter is ready for review. After considering the arguments, the record, and applicable authorities, the Court finds that Defendants' motion should be denied for the reasons expressed below.

I. Background

Gregg Walker was first employed by GMRI in August 2002.[1] On August 28, 2002, Walker received a Dispute Resolution Process (DRP) book in which he signed[2] and agreed to submit himself to GMRI's dispute resolution procedures if a dispute covered under the DRP arose. After several voluntary breaks in his employment from 2003 to 2005, [3] Walker began working for GMRI again from May 22, 2006, through March 4, 2013, with no interruptions in his employment. Besides the DRP agreement signed in August 2002, Walker never signed another agreement upon rehire of his various periods of employment with GMRI.

While working at Red Lobster, Walker alleges that he was sexually harassed by his immediate supervisor, Daphne (last name unknown), the general manager of Red Lobster, Jason Aikens, as well as several co-workers. See Docket No. 1-1, "Amended Compl." at 45. He alleges that he reported the conduct to several of his supervisors and to the home office. Id. at 45-6. Consequently, he claims that he "was subject to write-ups, changes in the schedule imposing hardship, and an increasingly hostile work environment, among other actions [taken] against [him]." Id. at 46. Walker filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on August 22, 2013, which issued the Notice of Right to Sue on March 5, 2014. Walker timely filed the instant action in the Circuit Court of Hinds County asserting various state law claims under Mississippi law and claims for sex discrimination and retaliation pursuant to Title VII, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 2000e, et seq. Id. at 10-16. Thereafter, the Defendants removed this action to this Court on June 6, 2014.

II. Present Arguments

Defendants filed the motion to compel arbitration on July 25, 2014, arguing that Walker's claims are all covered under the DRP that he signed once he first began working for GMRI back in 2002. See Docket No. 16. GMRI's Dispute Resolution Policy, attached in its entirety to the Defendants' memorandum in support of the motion to compel arbitration as "Exhibit A", states, in pertinent part:

This Policy will be used to resolve claims or controversies (as defined in the DRP arising out of an Employee's employment or termination), that an Employee may have against the Company.... These disputes, which have not been resolved through normal personnel channels and the Open Door Policy, shall be resolved through peer review, mediation and, if necessary, exclusive, final and binding arbitration as provided in DRP.

Docket No. 16-1, at 5 (emphasis added). The DRP specifically states that it applies to "claims for violation of any federal or state law or regulation or any claim arising under common law." Id. at 7.

Walker does not dispute that he signed the Defendants' DRP. However, in his response in opposition to the Defendants' motion to compel arbitration, Walker offers two arguments for the Court to deny Defendants' motion: (1) that the DRP that he signed upon his initial hire in August 2002 does not survive his breaks in employment, and (2) that the DRP cannot be held against Walker because he was a minor when he signed it. See Docket No. 18.

In reply, Defendants contend that because Walker has not disputed that the parties entered into an arbitration agreement, the Court is "precluded from determining whether the parties' agreement is valid and binding" as advised under the DRP. Docket No. 19, at 2. Relying on district court cases from Louisiana and Texas, Defendants further assert that the DRP survives any breaks in Walker's employment and applies to all of his claims. Id. at 2-16 (citing Anderson v. Waffle House, Inc., 920 F.Supp.2d 685, 689 (E.D. La. 2013); Mitchell v. J.V. Indus. Companies, Ltd., No. 4:08-CV-1135, 2008 WL 8444325 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 11, 2008)). As to Walker's argument that the DRP is invalid because he was a minor when he signed it, Defendants counter by arguing that a minor's contract is voidable, not void, and Walker did not "affirmatively repudiate" the contract so as to render it void. Id. at 2.

III. Legal Standard

Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act (the "FAA") provides:

A written provision in... a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction, or the refusal to perform the whole or any part thereof... shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon ...

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