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Young v. Granite Construction, Inc.

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

September 11, 2019

MICHAEL YOUNG, individually and on behalf of other similarly situated employees, Plaintiff,
v.
GRANITE CONSTRUCTION, INC., and KENNY CONSTRUCTION CO., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          JOHN Z. LEE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Michael Young has brought this suit against Defendants Granite Construction, Inc. (“Granite”) and Kenny Construction Company (“Kenny), alleging that Defendants failed to pay overtime wages to him and a putative class of employees in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 203 et seq. Defendants have filed a motion to compel Plaintiff to arbitrate his claims on an individual basis. For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' motion [19] is granted. This case is stayed pending the resolution of arbitration proceedings.

         Background

         Granite is a “full-service general contractor, construction management firm[, ] and construction materials producer.” Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1. In January 2013, Kenny became a wholly owned subsidiary of Granite. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff worked for Defendants as a Field Construction/Commissioning Manager from March 2015 to December 2017. Id. ¶ 19.

         During the period alleged in this suit, Plaintiff worked as an hourly employee, and Defendants set his schedule. Id. ¶¶ 41-42. If he worked fewer than 40 hours in a week, he would be paid only for the hours he actually worked. Id. ¶ 46. But when Plaintiff worked more than 40 hours, he alleges, he was not paid overtime. Id. ¶¶ 5- 6, 54-61.

         Plaintiff brought this lawsuit in July 2019, asserting claims under the FLSA and the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”) on behalf of himself and a class of workers allegedly subjected to the same wage practices during the previous three years. Id. ¶¶ 27, 30. Defendants have moved to compel arbitration and to stay or dismiss this action pending the arbitration proceeding. In the alternative, Defendants ask the Court to strike Plaintiff's jury demand.

         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 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).

         Courts are responsible for deciding whether an agreement to arbitrate exists before ordering arbitration. Janiga v. Questar Capital Corp., 615 F.3d 735, 741-42 (7th Cir. 2010). Once a court is satisfied that an agreement to arbitrate exists, the FAA instructs the court to stay the 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 Rule 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.

         Discussion

         At the center of the parties' dispute is a form Plaintiff signed at the beginning of his employment entitled “Employee Dispute Resolution Program (EDRP) Agreement Form.” Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Compel Arbitration, Ex. 1, EDRP Agreement Form, ECF No. 20-1. In that form (the “EDRP Agreement”), dated March 23, 2015, Plaintiff agreed to the following procedure:

Both the Company[1] and I agree that any dispute that may arise out of my employment must be settled in a manner that is fair to both of us. Both the Company and I agree that a consistent set of procedures will ensure fairness and promote timely resolution. Therefore, both the Company and I agree to use the methods and procedures contained in the Employee Dispute Resolution Program Handbook to identify and resolve any dispute that may arise out of my employment or the termination of my employment. The Employee Dispute Resolution Program includes neutral and binding arbitration as a final step, if necessary. As a result of this agreement, both the Company and I agree to waive any right to a jury trial.

Id. The EDRP Handbook, incorporated into the agreement, sets forth four steps (described as “options”): (1) The Open Door Policy; (2) The Conference; (3) The Mediation; and (4) The ...


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