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Christiane M. Tuoni v. Electronic Evidence Discovery

December 23, 2010

CHRISTIANE M. TUONI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ELECTRONIC EVIDENCE DISCOVERY
INCORPORATED, N/K/A DATICON EED, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bumb, United States District Judge:

NOT FOR PUBLICATION [Dkt. Ent. 5]

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on a motion by defendant Electronic Evidence Discovery Incorporated ("Defendant" or "EED") to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Plaintiff Christiane M. Tuoni ("Plaintiff") initiated this action with the filing of a Complaint on May 4, 2010, which alleged, among other things, gender and age discrimination in employment. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion will be granted.

I. Background

Plaintiff's allegations, as set forth in the Complaint, are as follows. Defendant is a litigation support vendor providing software and services to the legal industry, with offices in Kirkland, Washington, New York, New York, and Washington, D.C. (Compl. ¶¶ 9, 10.) Plaintiff accepted an offer of employment with Defendant on February 11, 2005, for the position of Regional Director. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Her job responsibilities included "sales on behalf of EED 'throughout the northeastern United States with the territory to be determined' . . . ." (Id. at ¶ 13-14.) Plaintiff primarily worked from her home in Wilmington, Delaware, but was secondarily assigned to Defendant's Washington, D.C. office. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Her territory varied throughout her employment, but generally stretched from Massachusetts to South Carolina. (Id. at ¶ 21.)

Plaintiff alleges that discriminatory conduct by Defendant and its employees between July and October 2008, ultimately forced her to resign. Specifically, she states that Defendant hired a younger, male salesperson who was assigned to Plaintiff's region and given several of her accounts. (Id. at ¶ 25.) Defendant required Plaintiff to train him, even though this was not one of her assigned duties. (Id.) In August, Defendant "unilaterally and without documentation or explanation" reduced Plaintiff's commission rates from 10% to 5% on some projects and 2.5% on other projects. (Id. at ¶ 26.) Plaintiff further alleges that her superiors, vice president of East Coast Sales Jose Lebron, who was located in Washington, D.C., and Washington-based CEO David McCann, specifically excluded her from several meetings with customers that were in her assigned territory and, in some cases, her assigned accounts. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-31.) According to Plaintiff, in early October 2008, both Lebron and McCann requested contact information from Plaintiff's assigned accounts so that they could exclude Plaintiff and re-assign the accounts to younger, male salespeople. (Id. ¶ 32).

On October 20, 2008, Plaintiff filed a complaint with Defendant's Human Resources Department concerning alleged employment discrimination practices by Plaintiff's superiors and Defendant's unilateral change of her commission plan. (Id. at ¶

33.) Plaintiff maintains that EED's Human Resources ("HR") Department did not make any attempts to investigate her complaint. (Id.) She notified HR that she wanted to resign, but the HR employee would not accept her resignation and instead tried to have several new EED employees convince her not to leave. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Plaintiff asserts that EED "constructively terminated" her on October 31, 2008. (Id. at ¶ 37.)

Plaintiff filed this action on May 4, 2010, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Delaware Employment Practices Act, and breach of contract.

Defendants now argue that this case should be transferred to the Western District of Washington, because (1) venue in the District of New Jersey is improper under Title VII's venue provision, (2) the convenience of the parties and witnesses and the interests of justice require transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), and (3) the parties are bound by a forum selection clause in Plaintiff's employment agreement (the "Agreement") that mandates that this case be heard in the courts of Seattle, Washington. Defendants point to the following forum selection language in the Agreement:

Choice of Law/Enforceability: This agreement is to be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of Washington without regard to its choice of law rules. Any action arising in connection with this agreement must be brought in state or federal court in Seattle, Washington, which shall have exclusive venue and jurisdiction over the subject matter of and parties to this agreement, subject to the arbitration clause, below. The parties hereby consent to jurisdiction in the State of Washington . . . . (Sgambati Cert., Def.'s Ex. A at ¶ 11 ("Agreement").) The arbitration clause, which is referenced in the forum selection provision, states the following:

"The claims covered by this agreement to arbitrate include but are not limited to, claims for wages or other compensation due; claims for breach of any contract or covenant, express or implied; tort claims; common law and statutory claims for discrimination; and claims for violation of any federal, state or other governmental constitution, statute, or law. (Id. at ¶ 14.) This language demonstrates, Defendant argues, that Plaintiff waived objections to the Washington venue. Defendant further argues that the convenience-of-the-parties analysis under § 1404(a) warrants transfer.

II. Discussion

As a preliminary matter, it bears noting that Plaintiff does not contest the validity of the forum selection clause or the fact that the clause is mandatory. Rather, Plaintiff only disputes its scope, arguing that the clause does not apply to the instant suit for employment discrimination. The Court notes that a forum selection clause should be considered within the context of the multi-factor balancing test that courts employ in deciding motions to transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). See Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 875 (3d Cir. 1995). In the Third Circuit, such contractual agreements carry substantial, but not dispositive weight. See id. at 880. Thus, the Court will consider the parties' forum selection clause as part of its § 1404(a) analysis.

Section 1404(a) of Title 28 of the United States Code provides that an action may be transferred "for the convenience of the parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice [to] . . . any other district . . . where it might have been brought." The decision to transfer under § 1404(a) is entirely within the discretion of the district court and involves an individualized, fact-intensive consideration of all the relevant factors. See Stewart Or., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 23 (1988). "A determination that transfer to another jurisdiction is appropriate represents an 'exercise[ ] of structured discretion by trial judges appraising the practical inconveniences posed to the litigants and the court should a particular action be litigated in one forum rather than another.'" Lawrence v. Xerox Corp., 56 F. Supp. 2d 442, 450 (D.N.J. 1999) (internal citations omitted). The district court "is vested with a large discretion" to determine when transfer should be ordered "for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice." Solomon v. Continental Amer. Life Ins., 472 F.2d 1043, 1045 (3d Cir. 1973) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

In deciding a transfer motion, the Court must first determine whether the proposed alternate venue is one in which the case "might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The parties do not dispute that this action could have been filed in the Western District of Washington.

Next, the Court must consider whether the forum selection clause should yield to the public and private factors relevant to a section 1404(a) transfer inquiry. The private interests include: (1) the plaintiff's forum preference; (2) the defendant's preference; (3) where the claim arose; (4) the convenience of the parties as indicated by their relative physical and financial condition; (5) the convenience of the witnesses to the extent they may be unavailable for trial in one of the fora; and (6) the location of books and records. Danka Funding, LLC v. Page, Scranton, Sprouse, Tucker & Ford, P.C., 21 F. Supp. 2d 465, 474 (3d Cir. 1995). The public interests include: (1) the enforceability of the judgment; (2) practical considerations in making the trial easy, expeditious, or inexpensive; (3) the relative administrative difficulty in the two fora resulting from court congestion; (4) the local interest in deciding controversies at home; (5) the public policies of the fora; and (6) the familiarity of the trial judge with the applicable state law in diversity cases. Id.

A. Private Interests

Here, the private interests weigh in favor of transferring the case to the Western District of Washington.

1. Convenience of the Parties

Washington presents a more convenient location for the parties than New Jersey. During the entire course of Plaintiff's employment with Defendant, she worked for a Washington-based company and lived and worked in Delaware.*fn1 Although New Jersey is Plaintiff's preferred forum, this preference requires less deference, since it is not her home forum. See, e.g., Lony v.

E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co., 886 F.2d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1989). Defendant's headquarters and principal place of business are in Washington. It ...


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