United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
STAN BAKER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendant CEC Entertainment, Inc.'s
Motion to Dismiss and to Compel Arbitration. (Doc. 4.)
Plaintiff Kiera Royal, proceeding pro se, filed a
Response in opposition, (doc. 10), Defendant filed a Reply,
(doc. 12), and Plaintiff filed a Sur Reply, (doc. 13). For
the reasons set forth herein, the Court
GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss,
(doc. 4), and DISMISSES without prejudice
Plaintiff's Complaint. The Court DIRECTS
the Clerk of Court to enter an appropriate judgment of
dismissal and to CLOSE this case.
action arises out of an employment dispute between Plaintiff
Kiera Royal and her employer, Defendant CEC Entertainment,
Inc. (Doc. 1-1). Defendant does business through the
operation of Chuck E. Cheese restaurants throughout the
United States. (Doc. 4-1, p. 2.) Plaintiff was hired to work
at Defendant's restaurant in Savannah, Georgia on January
5, 2015. (Doc. 1-1, p. 3.) As a part of Defendant's
new-hire process, Plaintiff was required to review and sign
various documents. (Doc. 4-1, p. 3.) One of these documents
was a “Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate Claims”
(hereinafter the “Arbitration Agreement” or
“Agreement”) wherein the parties agreed “to
use final and binding arbitration to resolve any and all
‘Covered Disputes' as defined in [the
document]” and that such disputes “shall be
decided by a neutral arbitrator and not by way of court or
jury trial.” (Doc. 4-2, p. 6.) The Agreement provides
that “Covered Disputes shall include, without
limitation, all claims arising out of . . . employment with
[Defendant], ” such as “[c]laims for
retaliation” and “[c]laims for harassment or
discrimination on the basis of, without limitation, race,
sex, . . . or any other characteristic protected by
law.” (Id.) However, administrative charges
filed with agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (“EEOC”) are not considered
“Covered Disputes” and are not subject to
mandatory arbitration. (Id. at p. 7.) The Agreement
also states that a signature indicates a party's
understanding that they have given up “the right to
resolve a Covered Dispute in court, ” and that
Defendant will pay “the fees and costs of the
Arbitrator;” however, the signing party is responsible
for paying “an administrative fee in an amount that
will not exceed the fee that [he or she] would otherwise pay
to file a lawsuit asserting the same claim(s) in
court.” (Id. at p. 8.) According to the
affidavit of Nancy Harris, Defendant's current Director
of Human Resources, Plaintiff signed the Arbitration
Agreement on January 5, 2015, and the document remained in
Plaintiff's personnel file since that time. (Id.
at pp. 3-4.) Defendant submitted, and the Court has reviewed,
a copy of the signed agreement, which was authenticated by
Ms. Harris in her affidavit. (Id. at pp. 6-9.)
to her rights under the Agreement, Plaintiff filed
discrimination, harassment, and retaliation-based charges
with the EEOC on one or more occasions. (Doc. 10, p. 9.) She
received a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC on July 3,
2018, (doc. 1-3, p. 13), and subsequently filed this action
in the Superior Court of Chatham County on September 28,
2018, (doc. 1-1). She alleges that Defendant subjected her to
ongoing sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and
retaliation during her time as an employee. (Id. at
p. 1.) Defendant removed the case to this Court on December
17, 2018 and filed its Motion to Dismiss and to Compel
Arbitration four days later. (Doc. 1; doc. 4.) In its Motion,
Defendant points to the Arbitration Agreement and argues that
because Plaintiff's claims are “Covered Disputes,
” she is obligated to resolve them through arbitration.
(Doc. 4-1, p. 5.) Specifically, Defendant contends that
“Plaintiff is contractually bound to submit to
arbitration as the exclusive forum for adjudication, ”
and the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's claims against
it and compel arbitration or, in the alternative, stay the
case until arbitration is complete. (Id. at p. 2.)
In response, Plaintiff does not dispute that she signed the
Arbitration Agreement and does not challenge the
Agreement's validity or enforceability. (Doc. 10; doc.
Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”), 9 U.S.C.
§§ 1-16, generally governs the validity of an
arbitration agreement. Caley v. Gulfstream Aerospace
Corp., 428 F.3d 1359, 1367 (11th Cir. 2005). However, it
is well-established that “the FAA does not confer
subject matter jurisdiction on federal courts.”
Baltin v. Alaron Trading Corp., 128 F.3d 1466, 1469
(11th Cir. 1997). Instead, some independent basis of subject
matter jurisdiction is necessary. Id.
Defendant asserts that the Court has federal question
jurisdiction over this action. (Doc. 1.) Subject matter
jurisdiction based on claims arising under federal law is
grounded in 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which grants district
courts jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising
under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United
States.” Such actions are removable under §
1441(a). “Whether a claim arises under federal law for
purposes of federal question jurisdiction is governed by the
‘well-pleaded complaint' rule, which provides that
federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is
presented on the face of the complaint.” Abele v.
Tolbert, 130 Fed.Appx. 342, 343 (11th Cir. 2005) (per
curiam); see Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S.
386, 392 (1987). All pleadings “must be construed so as
to do justice.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e). That principle
“applies with greatest force in cases filed by pro
se litigants, whose filings are liberally
construed.” Torres v. Miami-Dade County, 734
Fed.Appx. 688, 691 (11th Cir. 2018). “Liberal
construction, in more concrete terms, means that federal
courts must sometimes look beyond the labels used in a
pro se party's complaint and focus on the
content and substance of the allegations.” Id.
Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant is liable for sex
discrimination and retaliation, both in violation of
“Georgia labor code.” (Doc. 1-1, pp. 13-14.) She
does not cite any federal law as grounds for recovery.
(Id.) However, Plaintiff's Complaint contains
repeated references to her dealings with the EEOC, and
specifically notes that she had previously filed charges of
“sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and
retaliation.” (Doc. 1-1, p. 14.) She further states
that the EEOC gave her “the right to sue” and
that “all conditions precedent to the bringing of this
lawsuit have been satisfied and fulfilled.”
(Id. at p. 13.) Applying the lenient standards
relevant to pro se pleadings, it is clear that
Plaintiff intended to bring her claims pursuant to Title VII.
The sexual harassment and retaliation claims asserted in her
Complaint mirror those that she filed with the EEOC-a federal
agency tasked with investigating potential violations of
federal employment laws. See 42 U.S.C. §§
2000e-(2)-(5). Additionally, her Complaint includes
information routinely supplied by parties alleging violations
of Title VII. For example, Plaintiff states that the sexual
harassment she endured at work “was so severe that it
affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment,
” and that after she filed harassment charges with the
EEOC, her manager retaliated “by trying to destroy her
character” in the workplace. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 10- 11,
13.) Both allegations mirror elements of Title VII claims.
See Kidd v. Mando Am. Corp., 731 F.3d 1196, 1211
(11th Cir. 2013) (plaintiff asserting claim for retaliation
must show that: (1) she engaged in statutorily protected
activity; (2) she suffered materially adverse action; and (3)
a causal connection between the protected activity and the
adverse action); Mendoza v. Borden, Inc., 195 F.3d
1238, 1245 (11th Cir. 1999) (“To establish a
hostile-environment sexual-harassment claim under Title VII,
an employee must show . . . the harassment was sufficiently
severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of
employment . . . .”). Plaintiff also notes that
Defendant “continuously had at least 500 or more
employees” at all relevant times, (doc. 1-1, p. 13), a
fact relevant to the calculation of damages in federal
employment discrimination actions. 42 U.S.C. §
1981(b)(3)(D). Further evincing her intent, Plaintiff's
“Response to Defendant's Reply” explicitly
states that “the case was filed with the court system
due to [v]iolations of Title VII.” (Doc. 13, p.1.)
although her Complaint references the “Georgia labor
code, ” the Court is unaware of any state law in
Georgia that would entitle Plaintiff to the relief she seeks.
While a plaintiff may sue a state employer for such conduct,
Georgia law does not contain a statutory basis for a sexual
harassment or retaliation claim against a private employer.
O.C.G.A. § 45-19-22 through § 45-19-29; see,
e.g., Guilford v. MarketStar Corp., No.
1:08-CV-0336-CC-SSC, 2009 WL 10664954, at *9 (N.D.Ga. Jan.
30, 2009), report and recommendation adopted, No.
1:08-CV-0336-CC-SSC, 2009 WL 10664951 (N.D.Ga. Feb. 19, 2009)
(noting that Georgia law does not provide state law remedy
for employment discrimination against non-state employers).
The Court must assume that Plaintiff did not intend to allege
violations of a law that does not permit her to recover.
Because it is clear from the face of Plaintiff's
Complaint that she intended to assert claims arising under
federal law, the Court finds that it has federal question
jurisdiction over this action.
determined that jurisdiction is proper, the Court must
consider whether, under the FAA and the parties'
Arbitration Agreement, Plaintiff is required to arbitrate her
claims. The FAA was enacted in 1925 “as a response to
judicial hostility [towards] arbitration . . . and seeks to
relieve congestion in the courts and to provide parties with
an alternative method for dispute resolution that is speedier
and less costly than litigation.” Walthour v.
Chipio Windshield Repair, LLC, 745 F.3d 1326, 1329 (11th
Cir. 2014) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
The FAA “reflect[s] both a liberal federal policy
favoring arbitration and the fundamental principle that
arbitration is a matter of contract. In line with these
principles, courts must place arbitration agreements on an
equal footing with other contracts and enforce them according
to their terms.” AT&T Mobility LLC v.
Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted).
relevant part, the FAA provides that a written agreement to
arbitrate a controversy “shall be valid, irrevocable,
and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in
equity for the revocation of any contract.” 9 U.S.C.
§ 2. If a party bound by an arbitration agreement
refuses to arbitrate, the FAA permits the party aggrieved by
such a refusal to petition a court of competent jurisdiction
for an order directing the parties to proceed to arbitration.
See id. at § 4. Before directing the parties to
arbitration, however, the Court must be “satisfied that
the making of the agreement for arbitration . . . is not in
issue.” Id. “[A]rbitration is a matter
of contract and a party cannot be required to submit to
arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to
submit.” AT&T Techs., Inc. v. Commc'ns
Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 648 (1986) (citation
omitted). Thus, the Court must first “determine whether
the parties agreed to arbitrate that dispute.”
Mitsubishi Motors Corp. v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth,
Inc., 473 U.S. 614, 626 (1985). While ...