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Warren v. Meijer

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 20, 2017

DEANTOINE WARREN, Plaintiff,
v.
MEIJER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN Z. LEE United States District Judge.

         DeAntoine Warren (“Warren”), a pro se plaintiff, filed this suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as well as 42 U.S.C. § 1981, alleging that Defendant Meijer (“Meijer”) discriminated against him based on his race, failed to stop harassment against him, and retaliated against him for asserting protected rights. Meijer has moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. For the reasons that follow, Meijer's motion [11] is denied. Warren's motion for attorney representation [16] is also denied.

         Background

         This case arises from Warren's work as a Customer Service Line Lead at a Meijer store in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. Pl.'s Resp. Mot. Compel Arb., Ex. 2, ECF No. 20. Before Warren began work, he received a letter dated May 28, 2014, that summarized Meijer's offer of employment. Id. The letter stated in part that “[e]xcept as expressly modified by the terms of this letter, your employment is subject to all Meijer policies, procedures, work rules and guidelines, which are incorporated by reference into this letter.” Id. Meijer has approximately 146 different policies. Def.'s Reply Supp. Mot. Compel Arb., Ex. 3, ECF No. 22-4. One such policy, which was in force at the time Warren was hired, is Meijer's Dispute Resolution Policy. Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Compel Arb., Ex. A-2, ECF No. 12-1. The policy mandates arbitration for “all claims that arise out of or relate to the team member's employment and/or separation from employment with Meijer and that concern legally protected rights for which a court or governmental agency would be authorized by law to grant relief, ” including “claims of unlawful retaliation” and “claims of employment discrimination . . ., including, but not limited to, claims based on race.” Id. at 6. Warren does not dispute that his claims fall within the scope of this mandate.

         The offer letter requested that Warren “[p]lease print two copies of this letter-one for your records and one to sign and send back to Meijer. Please scan the signed copy to my attention at [a Meijer recruiter's email address].” Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 2. At the bottom of the letter, there is a line that reads “Acceptance of terms and conditions” and then states “I accept the terms and conditions stated above and agree to be bound by them.” Id. A signature line follows. Id. The Court obtained a copy of this letter by way of Warren's response to Meijer's motion to compel arbitration. The signature line is not filled out and there is no evidence in the record that Warren signed and submitted the form.[1]

         Warren accepted Meijer's offer of employment and began work shortly thereafter. Warren asserts that he began work on June 9, 2014, the date specified in his offer letter. Id. In its initial memorandum, Meijer asserted that Warren began work on June 20, 2014. Def.'s Mem. at 2, ECF No. 12. In its reply, however, Meijer concedes that Meijer's offer letter indicates that his first day was to be June 9. Def.'s Reply at 2-3, ECF No. 22.

         Meijer claims that, after he began work, Warren entered into a separate agreement to arbitrate disputes he might have against Meijer. As evidence of this agreement, Meijer offers the affidavit of Jennifer Ganz, a Retail Administrative Assistant at the Meijer store in Rolling Meadows. Def.'s Reply, Ganz Decl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 22-1. Ganz avers that, as part of Meijer's typical orientation procedures, Warren assented to the agreement on June 20, 2014. Id. ¶ 3. On that day, according to the affidavit, Ganz gave Warren a hard copy of Meijer's Dispute Resolution Policy, along with a number of other policies and documents, and asked Warren to review them. Id. ¶ 4. After doing so, she instructed Warren to access the company's intranet site, which required him to set up personal security questions. Id. ¶ 7. When Warren finished creating his personal security questions, Ganz directed Warren to a page that contained links to the various policies he had reviewed in hard copy, including the Dispute Resolution Policy. Id. ¶ 8; see Pl.'s Mem., Ex. A-3, ECF No. 12-1. Next to the links to the policies are boxes that invited Warren to “click to agree.” Ganz Decl. ¶ 8; see Pl.'s Mem., Ex. A-3. Meijer submitted a screenshot of an intranet site page bearing Warren's name that indicates acceptance of the Dispute Resolution Policy and corresponding agreement. Pl.'s Mem., Ex. A-3. The screenshot further indicates acceptance of a number of additional policies and time stamps for when acceptance was recorded. Id.

         Ganz recalls that Warren clicked to accept these policies, including the Dispute Resolution Policy, after electing not to review the policies because he had just reviewed them in hard copy. Ganz Decl. ¶¶ 8-9. She also notes that Warren completed an I-9 employment form and filled out direct deposit information. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. Ganz attests that “[n]one of this could [have] be[en] complete[d] without Mr. Warren's cooperation.” Id. ¶ 11.

         Warren, for his part, denies that Ganz gave him a copy of the Dispute Resolution Policy and denies that he ever “saw, read, clicked or otherwise agreed to [it].” Pl.'s Resp. at 1-2; id., Ex. 1. He recalls meeting with Ganz and filling out a form regarding whether he had been convicted of a felony, after which he was instructed to “finish [his] training, ” but states that he was “never offered, nor did he participate[, ] in any orientation.” Id. at 1-2. His theory is that, because his purported acceptance of the agreement occurred over a week after his employment began, “someone . . . dropped the ball and did not put Plaintiff through orientation.” Id. at 3. He surmises that, based on the time stamps recording his purported acceptance of various Meijer policies-some of which are mere seconds apart-someone “[l]ogged into the program and very quickly clicked through all of the documents.” Id.

         Analysis

         I. Motion to Compel Arbitration

         The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) mandates that courts enforce valid, written arbitration agreements. Tinder v. Pinkerton Sec., 305 F.3d 728, 733 (7th Cir. 2002) (citing 9 U.S.C. § 2). This mandate reflects a federal policy that favors arbitration and “places arbitration agreements on equal footing with all other contracts.” Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 443 (2006). Once a court is satisfied that an agreement to arbitrate exists, the FAA instructs the court to stay proceedings on issues subject to arbitration and provides a mechanism for parties to request that the court compel arbitration pursuant to the agreement. 9 U.S.C. §§ 3-4; see also Tinder, 305 F.3d at 733.

         A party opposing a motion to compel arbitration bears the burden of identifying a triable issue of fact as to the existence of the purported arbitration agreement. Tinder, 305 F.3d at 735. The opponent's evidentiary burden is akin to that of a party opposing summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Id. “[A] party cannot avoid compelled arbitration by generally denying the facts upon which the right to arbitration rests; the party must identify specific evidence in the record demonstrating a material factual dispute for trial.” Id. The Court must believe the evidence of the party opposing arbitration and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Id. If the party opposing arbitration identifies a genuine issue of fact as to whether an arbitration agreement was formed, “the court shall proceed summarily to the trial thereof.” 9 U.S.C. § 4; see Tinder, 305 F.3d at 735.

         In opposing arbitration, Warren argues that he never entered into an arbitration agreement with Meijer.[2] In determining whether an agreement to arbitrate exists, the Court applies state contract law. Janiga v. Questar Capital Corp., 615 F.3d 735, 742 (7th Cir. 2010). The parties do not contend that any law other than that of Illinois should ...


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