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Benincasa v. Jack Daniels Audi of Upper Saddle River Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 15, 2018




         The plaintiff, Matthew Benincasa, alleges that he experienced age-based harassment when employed by Jack Daniels Audi of Upper Saddle River, Inc. ("Jack Daniels Audi"), and that Jack Daniels Audi discriminatorily terminated his employment as a car salesman on account of his age. Jack Daniels moves to dismiss the complaint and have the matter referred to arbitration, citing an arbitration Agreement with Mr. Benincasa. I will grant Jack Daniels Audi's motion to dismiss the case and refer the matter to arbitration.

         I. Summary of Facts[1]

         From November 2013 to May 2017, Mr. Benincasa was a car salesman at Jack Daniels Audi in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. (AC ¶¶ 21-23.) While at Jack Daniels Audi, he claims, he was the victim of age-based harassment from other, younger employees at the dealership. (Id. ¶¶ 26-31.) He reported this harassment to the Human Resources department, management, and ownership at Jack Daniels Audi, but was rebuffed. (Id. ¶¶ 34-39.)

         On May 1, 2017, Benincasa was terminated from his position. (Id. ¶ 45.) He says that Jack Daniels Audi's stated reason for firing him concerned a photograph he took of another employee. (Id.) He claims, however, that this was a pretext and that he was actually fired on account of his age and in retaliation for reporting the harassment. (Id. ¶ 46.) Mr. Benincasa has filed a complaint and has made claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1, et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.[2] (Id. ¶¶ 49-72.) Jack Daniels Audi replies that this court is not the proper forum for this dispute, citing the Jack Daniels Motors Arbitration Agreement. (Def. Br. at 4; see also Agreement, ECF no. 9-6.)

         II. Default

         Mr. Benincasa raises the threshold issue that the motion must be dismissed because Jack Daniels Audi is in default. (PI. Opp. at 6.) On January 18, 2018, however, I denied Mr. Benincasa's motion for default judgment and ordered that the Clerk's entry of default be vacated. (ECF no. 12.) The point is moot.

         III. Arbitrability

         The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., created a strong federal policy in favor of arbitration. It authorizes a party to enforce a valid and enforceable arbitration agreement by moving to compel such arbitration. In re Pharmacy Benefit Managers Antitrust Litig., 700 F.3d 109, 116 (3d Cir. 2012). Arbitration, however, is a matter of contract between parties, so a judicial mandate to arbitrate must be predicated on the parties' consent. Guidotti v. Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, L.L.C., 716 F.3d 764, 771 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Par-Knit Mills, Inc. v. Stockbridge Fabrics Co., Ltd., 636 F.2d 51, 54 (3d Cir. 1980)). In short, the court must be satisfied that the agreement to arbitrate is effective before compelling arbitration. Id. at 771.

         The issue of arbitrability is generally one for the court. See AT&T Techs., Inc. v. Comm'ns Workers of America, 475 U.S. 643, 651 (1986). The applicable standard, however, is not straightforward. Guidotti, 716 F.3d at 773 (noting that pronouncements on the standard of review for arbitrability have been inconsistent because they involve the FAA's policy of "efficient and speedy dispute resolution" but also the sometimes-competing policy of enforcing only such provisions as are written and validly agreed to).

         When the affirmative defense of arbitrability of claims is apparent on the face of a complaint, including documents relied on in the complaint, a Rule 12(b)(6) standard applies. Id. at 773-74. When that is not the case, a "more deliberate pace"-i.e., "limited discovery" followed by a "renewed motion to compel arbitration" under a Rule 56 summary judgment standard-is appropriate.[3]

         Here, I determined that the first approach was not warranted. Moving to the second, "limited discovery" approach, I gave the parties the opportunity to submit affidavits and evidence "regarding the existence, corporate status, and relationships among Jack Daniels Audi of Upper Saddle River, Inc., Jack Daniels Motors, and any other relevant entities." (ECF no. 12.) The parties, both before and after I entered that order, submitted declarations and evidence in support of their contentions. (See, e.g., ECF nos. 9, 10, 15.) There can be no claim of surprise, then, that I considered evidence extrinsic to the pleadings.

         The Agreement in question is titled "Jack Daniels Motors Arbitration Agreement." (ECF no. 9-6.) There is no dispute as to the authenticity of that document.[4]

         Mr. Benincasa says that because the agreement is titled "Jack Daniels Motors Arbitration Agreement, " an entity called Jack Daniels Motors must be the "Employer" referred to in the agreement. (Id.) His real employer, he says, was not Jack ...

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