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Bloom v. Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority

February 8, 2008

JENNIFER BLOOM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JERSEY CITY MUNICIPAL UTILITIES AUTHORITY, THE ESTATES OF GERARD LETIZIA, HOWARD JACKSON, GEORGE KELLY, EILEEN GAUGHAN, KATHLEEN HARTYE, KATHLEEN CURRAN, WILLIAM MACCHI, THOMAS KANE, BARBARA GORDON, ELNARDO WEBSTER, JR., THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY, JERRAMIAH HEALY, CARL CZAPLICKI, BRIAN O'REILLY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

Several Defendants in this case have moved on summary judgment to dismiss Plaintiff's claims. These Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims are arbitrable under an agreement that Plaintiff entered with Defendant Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority ("JCMUA"). This Court finds that Plaintiff did enter into an agreement to arbitrate these claims against JCMUA and its officials both in their individual and official capacities but that the obligation to arbitrate does not extend to her claims against the other Defendants in this case. Accordingly, the Court stays this case until the conclusion of Plaintiff's arbitration against JCMUA.

I. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

This case centers around the scope and enforceability of an arbitration agreement between Plaintiff and Defendant Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority ("JCMUA"). The issue is which of Plaintiff's claims-if any-she must submit to arbitration under this agreement.

A. The Arbitration Agreement

Plaintiff was the Director of Administration and Financial Management for JCMUA, a municipal instrumentality that manages the sewage and water systems in Jersey City. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 38.) JCMUA policies established an alternative dispute resolution procedure, which included arbitration. (Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. B.)

JCMUA informed its employees of this procedure by issuing them a Policies and Procedures Manual, which contained an array of JCMUA policies and procedures. (Ex. B.) The manual provided, inter alia, that "JCMUA has established an Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedure Program ("ADR" or "Program") for all matters involving employee disputes and discipline." (Ex. B.) The manual provided that the final step of the program would consist of arbitration: "If an employee is not satisfied with the results of the Internal Meeting and the issue falls within the scope of the Arbitration Policy, the employee may request arbitration, which is the last step of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedure Program." (Ex. B.)

With the exception of the alternative dispute resolution program, JCMUA intended that the Policies and Procedures Manual would not constitute binding contract. They merely required each employee to sign an Employee's Acknowledgment of Receipt of Manual ("Acknowledgment"). (Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. D.) This document stated, in relevant part, as follows:

I understand that the policies and procedures described in this Manual are neither a promise of employment nor a promise of conditions of employment. . . . I further understand that the contents of the Manual are for information only and are not intended to create or constitute a contract. I understand the Manual is only a brief summary of benefits currently offered by the JCMUA and an overview of some of its work rules and policies. (Ex. D.)

With respect to the alternative dispute resolution program, however, JCMUA sought to create a binding agreement with its employees. JCMUA required each employee to sign an Employee's Acknowledgment of Receipt and Agreement to the JCMUA's Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedures ("Arbitration Agreement"). (Mot. for Summ. J. Exs. D, E.) This document stated, in relevant part and in contrast to the document mentioned above, as follows:

I understand that by accepting employment and being able to receive increases in compensation and benefits, I am agreeing to the important term and condition of my employment that I will use JCMUA's internal and external employment dispute resolution process to resolve legal claims against JCMUA - therefore, rather than go to court or to a government agency for a hearing to decide my legal claim, I will submit my employment related legal claims except workers' compensation and unemployment compensation to final and binding neutral third party arbitration. I understand further that this term of my employment replaces and supersedes any prior agreement concerning this term and cannot be changed in any way except in writing signed by me and the Executive Director of the JCMUA . . . . (Ex. E.)

JCMUA issued these documents to Plaintiff two separate times during the relevant period of her employment. JCMUA issued a set of these documents to Plaintiff initially in 2004. (Exs. D, E.) At that time, Plaintiff signed both the Acknowledgment and the Arbitration Agreement. (Exs. D, E.) JCMUA then in 2005 issued another set of these documents to Plaintiff with only minor alterations that are not relevant here. (Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. C.) Plaintiff never signed this second set of documents. (Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. 1.)

B. Plaintiff's Claims

Plaintiff alleges that in 2004 she began to discover that JCMUA was engaging in unethical and illegal acts concerning, inter alia, whether JCMUA was properly withholding its employees' wages and benefits. (Compl. ¶ 47.) Plaintiff alleges that when she reported her discoveries to JCMUA officials, they declined to investigate. (Compl. ¶47.) Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that JCMUA retaliated against her with ...


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