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Maro v. Commuter Advertising Inc.

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

July 1, 2019

MICHELLE MARO, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMUTER ADVERTISING, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN Z. LEE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Michelle Maro filed this lawsuit in state court against her former employer, Commuter Advertising, Inc. (“Commuter Advertising”), after Commuter Advertising terminated her employment. Maro raises claims of pregnancy discrimination in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1-101 et seq. (Count 1), retaliation (Count 2), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count 3). Commuter Advertising removed the action to federal court and then filed a motion to stay proceedings and compel arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. For the reasons provided, the Court grants Commuter Advertising's motion [8].

         Background

         Maro began working for Commuter Advertising as President of Sales in January 2016. Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1-1. Commuter Advertising is an Ohio corporation that creates and manages advertising campaigns in public-transit vehicles in Illinois and several other states. Id. ¶¶ 2, 8.

         On October 26, 2015, Maro signed an employment agreement with Commuter Advertising, which included an arbitration clause:

ARBITRATION. Any dispute arising in connection with this Agreement or any other dispute, whether or not employment-related, between Company, or any of its officers, directors, agents, employees, or any other person affiliated in any way with Company, and Employee, shall be resolved by arbitration conducted before a panel of three (3) arbitrators, exclusively in Dayton, Ohio, in accordance with the commercial rules of the American Arbitration Association then in effect. . . .

Def.'s Mot. Compel Arb., Ex. A, Employment Agreement ¶ 25, ECF No. 8.

         In late 2016 and early 2017, several incidents occurred that, Maro alleges, led the company to engage in acts of retaliation and unlawful discrimination against her. First, Maro informed the company that the ads of one of its clients were not airing as often as they should be, a criticism to which the company did not respond. Compl. ¶¶ 11-16. Maro also reported to Commuter Advertising's CEO, Russell Gottesman, that another employee had complained about long hours and other job-related stress. Id. ¶ 17.

         Furthermore, on January 3, 2017, Gottesman denied Maro's request for Commuter Advertising to pay for her flight from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio. Id. ¶¶ 18-23. On January 11, Maro informed Gottesman that she was pregnant and that her pregnancy had been deemed high-risk, to which Gottesman replied, “are you sure you really want to [have a baby], Michelle?” Id. ¶¶ 25-26, 32. On January 27, Gottesman gave Maro a document criticizing her work performance. Id. ¶ 44.

         Gottesman fired Maro on February 6, 2017. Id. ¶ 47. Accordingly, on August 31, 2018, Maro filed suit against Commuter Advertising in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, alleging that Commuter Advertising terminated her employment in retaliation for questioning company practices and reporting her coworker's complaint, and discriminated against her based on her high-risk pregnancy. Maro also alleges that Gottesman's conduct constituted intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         On October 10, 2018, Commuter Advertising removed the complaint to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. On October 16, Commuter Advertising moved to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration, contending that Maro's claims fall within the scope of the arbitration agreement in her employment contract. Def.'s Mot. Compel Arb., ECF No. 8.

         Legal Standard

         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 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 and that the claim at issue is arbitrable under the agreement, 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 ...


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