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Suncica Reljic v. Tullett Prebon Americas Corp.

June 21, 2011

SUNCICA RELJIC, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TULLETT PREBON AMERICAS CORP., ET. AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chesler, District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the motion to compel arbitration and dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint by Defendants Tullett Prebon Americas Corp., Tullett Prebon (Americas) Holding Inc., Tullett Prebon Financial Services, LLC ("Tullett"), Tullett Prebon plc, Richard Higgs ("Higgs"), and Stephen Duckworth ("Duckworth") (collectively, "Defendants") [docket entry 6]. Plaintiff Suncica Reljic ("Plaintiff") has opposed the motion. This Court has opted to rule based on the papers submitted and without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion to compel arbitration and dismiss the Complaint.

I.BACKGROUND

Tullett is an inter-dealer broker company that serves an as intermediary in wholesale financial markets and facilitates the trading activities of its clients, consisting mostly of commercial and investment banks. Plaintiff started working for Tullett on January 7, 2002 as a broker trainee and completed Tullett's training program by May 2002. Subsequently, on September 30, 2004, Plaintiff and Tullett entered into an employment agreement (the "Employment Agreement"), which was amended on October 18, 2005, and again on January 14, 2008. Among other things, the Employment Agreement contains a dispute resolution clause ("Arbitration Clause") in which Plaintiff and Tullett agreed to arbitrate any and all disputes arising out of Plaintiff's employment with Tullett, including any claims based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"). The Arbitration Clause states, in relevant part:

Any dispute, controversy or claim between [Tullett] and you based on, arising out of or relating to this Agreement, the breach or termination of this Agreement, your employment with [Tullett] or the termination of your employment, including, without limitation, any and all claims under . . . Title VII of the Civil Rights Act . . . the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination . . . and any other federal, state, or local law, statute or ordinance, shall be settled by final and binding arbitration in New York, New York, administered by the American Arbitration Association ("AAA") pursuant to the National Rules for the Resolution of Employment Disputes of the AAA ("Rules of the AAA"). . . . To the extent you have signed a Form U-4 that provides for the arbitration of disputes between [Tullett] and you pursuant to the rules of a stock exchange or other securities industry organization such as the NASD, you hereby elect to have all such disputes administered by the NASD and settled pursuant to the Rules of the NASD.*fn1 (Smith Decl., Ex. B, ¶ 12.1.) In October 2004 and December 2007, Plaintiff signed and submitted to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (hereafter, "FINRA") her Uniform Application for Securities Industry Registration or Transfer ("Form U-4"). Plaintiffs Form U-4s were approved and she became a registered broker with FINRA.

On March 8, 2011, Plaintiff filed this action against Defendants, asserting claims of unlawful sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), et seq., and the NJLAD, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq. According to Plaintiff's Compliant, she was frequently subjected to harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and a "boy's club" atmosphere which created a hostile work environment.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendants ask this Court to compel arbitration in this case because Plaintiff's Employment Agreement mandates the arbitration of all of the claims asserted in her Complaint. In opposition, Plaintiff argues that the Arbitration Clause is unenforceable because: 1) it restricts Plaintiff's right to pursue a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and because it fails to explicitly apprise Plaintiff of her right to file a charge with the EEOC; 2) Plaintiff did not knowingly and voluntarily waive her rights to a jury trial; 3) it is an unconscionable contract of adhesion; and 4) the claims against individual Defendants Higgs and Duckworth are nonarbitrable since they are not signatories to the Employment Agreement.

A. Arbitration Clause and the EEOC Process

Plaintiff avers that the Arbitration Clause is unenforceable because it interferes with her right to file a charge with the EEOC and pursue litigation she began upon the filing of her EEOC charge.*fn2 The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") establishes "a strong federal policy in favor of the resolution of disputes through arbitration," which is not diminished when a party to an arbitration agreement raises claims under a federal statute. Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983). Indeed, in recent years the United States Supreme Court and Third Circuit have held enforceable arbitration agreements relating to claims arising under Title VII. Seus v. John Nuveen & Co., 146 F.3d 175, 182 (3d Cir. 1998); see also Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20, 34 (1991)(holding that arbitration is not inferior to the judicial process for resolving statutory claims and that "so long as the prospective litigant effectively may vindicate [his or her] statutory cause of action in the arbitral forum, the statute will continue to serve both its remedial and deterrent function"). "By agreeing to arbitrate a statutory claim, a party does not forego the substantive rights afforded by the statute; it only submits to their resolution in an arbitral, rather than a judicial forum . . ." Gilmer, 500 U.S. at 26; see also Mitsubishi Motors Corp. v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth, 473 U.S. 614, 628 (1985) (ruling that arbitration clauses trade "the procedures and opportunity for review of the courtroom for the simplicity, informality, and expedition of arbitration").

As such, Plaintiff's argument that the Arbitration Clause is unenforceable because it interferes with certain rights relating to the EEOC is without merit because arbitration does not undermine the role of the EEOC in enforcing Title VII claims. A claimant subject to an arbitration agreement will still be free to file a charge with the EEOC, even though the claimant is not able to institute a private judicial action. See Gilmer, 500 U.S. at 28. Indeed, Plaintiff filed a charge with the EEOC in this case. The mere involvement of an administrative agency in the enforcement of a statute is not sufficient to preclude arbitration. Id. Therefore, Plaintiff's contention that the Arbitration Clause unlawfully infringes on her rights to bring a claim before the EEOC is unfounded.

B. Knowing and Voluntary Waiver of Rights to a Jury Trial

Plaintiff maintains that she did not knowingly and voluntarily waive her right to a court hearing in favor of arbitration of her current claims. An agreement to arbitrate statutory employment claims is only binding on the employee when he or she has knowingly waived the right to a court hearing and has clearly agreed to the terms of the agreement. Sabark v. Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., 354 F. Supp. 2d 531, 541 (D.N.J. 2004). As such, there must be an unambiguous writing that clearly establishes that an employee intended to waive the right to sue. Id. As the New Jersey Supreme Court has observed, "a clause depriving a citizen of access to the courts should clearly state its purpose" in order to "assure that the parties know that in electing arbitration as the exclusive remedy, they are waiving their time-honored right to sue." Garfinkel v. Morristown Obstetrics & Gynecology Assocs., 773 A.2d 665, 670 (2001). In making that determination, that court asked the following questions: (1) whether the relevant waiver-of-rights provision reflects an unambiguous intention to arbitrate a ...


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