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Roman v. Bergen Logistics, LLC

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

September 24, 2018

MILAGROS ROMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BERGEN LOGISTICS, LLC and GREGG OLIVER, Defendants-Respondents.

          Argued February 5, 2018

          On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-2652-17.

          Peter D. Valenzano argued the cause for appellant (Mashel Law, LLC, attorneys; Stephan T. Mashel, of counsel and on the briefs; Peter D. Valenzano, on the briefs).

          Jessica L. Sussman argued the cause for respondent Bergen Logistics, LLC (Jackson Lewis PC, attorneys; Richard J. Cino, of counsel; Jessica L. Sussman, on the brief).

          Kyle L. Wu argued the cause for respondent Gregg Oliver (Margolis Edelstein, attorneys; Michael R. Miller and Kyle L. Wu, of counsel and on the brief).

          Thaddeus P. Mikulski, Jr., attorney for amicus curiae National Employment Lawyers Association of New Jersey, Inc. (Thaddeus P. Mikulski, Jr. and Richard M. Schall, on the brief).

          Before Judges Accurso, O'Connor and Vernoia.

          OPINION

          VERNOIA, J.A.D.

         Plaintiff Milagros Roman appeals from an order dismissing her sexual harassment and retaliation complaint against defendants Bergen Logistics, LLC and Gregg Oliver. Because we are convinced the court correctly determined the complaint should be dismissed because plaintiff agreed to arbitrate her claims, we affirm but modify the court's order to permit plaintiff to pursue her punitive damages claims in arbitration.

         I.

         In September 2015, Bergen Logistics hired plaintiff as a human resources generalist. Oliver was Bergen Logistics's Human Resources Director and plaintiffs immediate supervisor. He terminated plaintiffs employment on December 30, 2015.

         In an April 2017 Law Division complaint, plaintiff alleged Oliver sexually harassed her and created a sexually hostile work environment during her employment. She also alleged that after she objected to his conduct and sexual advances, he retaliated against her and terminated her employment. She asserted causes of action against Bergen Logistics and Oliver under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49, and for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, asserting plaintiff was obligated to arbitrate her claims pursuant to the arbitration agreement she signed when hired in September 2015. In support of their motion, defendants relied on the agreement, which refers to plaintiff as "you" and Bergen Logistics as the "Company, and provides in pertinent part that "[a]s an express condition of plaintiffs "hiring" and "continu[ed]" employment by Bergen Logistics she agreed:

(i) all (past, present and future) disputes, controversies and claims of any nature (whether under federal, state or local laws and whether based on contract, tort, common law, statute . . .) arising out of, involving, affecting or related in any way to your . . . employment . . . and/or termination of employment by or from Company, the conditions of your employment, or any act or omission of Company or Company's other employees shall be resolved exclusively by final and binding arbitration before the American Arbitration Association .... This Agreement covers all employment matters, including but not limited to matters directly or indirectly related to wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation (in the whistle blower or any other context), . . . and any other violation of state, federal or common law ....
(iii) neither you nor Company shall file or maintain any lawsuit, action or legal proceeding of any nature with respect to any dispute, controversy or claim within the scope of this Agreement, including, but not limited to, any lawsuit, action or legal proceeding challenging the arbitrability of any such dispute .... BY SIGNING THIS AGREEMENT YOU AND COMPANY ARE WAIVING ANY RIGHT, STATUTORY OR OTHERWISE, TO A TRIAL BY JURY AND TO PUNITIVE AND EXEMPLARY DAMAGES
YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT YOU . . . READ THIS AGREEMENT AND . . . HAD SUFFICIENT TIME TO STUDY AND CONSIDER IT AND TO CONSULT WITH COUNSEL OF YOUR CHOICE, THAT YOU UNDERSTAND ALL OF ITS TERMS AND ARE SIGNING THIS AGREEMENT KNOWINGLY AND VOLUNTARILY, AND THAT IN DOING SO YOUR ARE NOT RELYING UPON ANY OTHER STATEMENTS OR ...

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