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Wilson v. Luxottica Retail North America, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

March 27, 2019




         Before the Court is Defendant Luxottica Retail North America, Inc.'s (“Luxottica”) motion (Doc. 8) to dismiss or, in the alternative, to stay and compel arbitration and brief (Doc. 9) in support. Plaintiff Taylor Wilson (“Wilson”), Special Administrator of the Estate of Randy Warren Wilson (“Mr. Wilson”), deceased, filed a response (Doc. 11) in opposition. Luxottica filed a reply (Doc. 15) with leave of Court. Luxottica's motion requests that the Court compel arbitration as required by the parties' arbitration agreement and dismiss this action. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted.

         I. Background

         Wilson filed this action on November 1, 2018 claiming Luxottica terminated Randy Wilson's employment on the basis of a disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993 (“ACRA”). The complaint further claims that Luxottica terminated Mr. Wilson's employment as retaliation for his status as a protected whistleblower in violation of the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h).

         Mr. Wilson worked as the General Manager of a Lenscrafter retail store owned and operated by Luxottica. In 2015, Luxottica issued an “Associate Guide” to its employees. The terms of the Associate Guide set out that as a condition of continued employment, Mr. Wilson was required to review and acknowledge the Guide's policies, including a dispute resolution agreement with an arbitration agreement. (Doc. 9-1, p. 5). The arbitration agreement “covers virtually all legal claims arising out of or related to [Mr. Wilson's] employment with Luxottica.” (Doc. 9-1, p. 8). The arbitration agreement explicitly includes Americans with Disabilities Act claims and “state statutes or regulations addressing the same or similar subject matters, and all other federal or state legal claims arising out of or relating to [Mr. Wilson's] employment or the termination of employment.” (Doc. 9-1, p. 10). Both parties agreed “to resolve their disputes exclusively through binding arbitration, ” and the parties agreed that they waived their rights to a trial. (Doc. 9-1, p. 9). The terms of the Associate Guide allowed Mr. Wilson to opt out of the dispute resolution agreement within 30 days of receipt of the Guide. (Doc. 9-1, p. 12). Mr. Wilson did not opt out.

         Luxottica argues that the arbitration agreement requires the Court to compel arbitration and dismiss or stay the case. Taylor Wilson contends that the arbitration provision is unenforceable because it lacks consideration and mutuality, that the arbitration agreement is not binding on him because he, Taylor Wilson, was not a party to the original dispute resolution agreement, and that even if the arbitration agreement is valid and enforceable, Luxottica waived its right to compel arbitration.

         II. Analysis

         Luxottica's motion to compel arbitration is reviewed under the summary judgment standard. See Nebraska Mach. Co. v. Cargotec Sols., 762 F.3d 737, 741-42 (8th Cir. 2014). The Court views the evidence and resolves all factual disputes in the nonmoving party's favor. Id. In determining whether Wilson's claims fall within the terms of the arbitration provision, the Court should not rule on the potential merits of the underlying claims. AT&T Techs. v. Commc'ns Workers, 475 U.S. 643, 649 (1986). The Court should determine first whether there is a valid arbitration agreement and second, whether the claims fall within the terms of the arbitration provision. Robinson v. EOR-ARK LLC, 841 F.3d 781, 783-84 (8th Cir. 2016). If both questions are answered in the affirmative, arbitration must be compelled.

         Whether an arbitration agreement is valid and enforceable is governed by state contract law. Donaldson Co., Inc. v. Burroughs Diesel, Inc., 581 F.3d 726, 731-32 (8th Cir. 2009) (explaining that “state contract law governs the threshold question of whether an enforceable arbitration agreement exists between litigants”). Under Arkansas law, the essential elements of a contract are: (1) competent parties; (2) subject matter; (3) legal consideration; (4) mutual agreement; and (5) mutual obligations. Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Archer, 147 S.W.3d 681, 684 (Ark. 2004). There is no dispute the parties to the agreement were fully competent and the mutual agreement covered legally permissible subject matter. The only elements at issue are legal consideration and mutual obligations.

         Wilson argues that there is no valid contract because continued at-will employment cannot constitute consideration.[1] Arkansas law is clear that continued at-will employment can constitute consideration for an employment agreement. See Barnard v. Townsquare Media, LLC, No. 12-cv-4110, 2013 U.S. LEXIS 58728, at *6 n.1 (W.D. Ark. April 24, 2013) (“The legal consideration for the agreement was furnished by [the employee's] acknowledgement of the policy as a condition of her employment, as well as the mutual promises stated in the agreement that the parties would arbitrate their disputes.”); see also Sexton Law Firm, P.A. v. Milligan, 948 S.W.2d 388, 393-94 (Ark. 1997). In Sexton, the Arkansas Supreme Court stated:

If the handbook language [is sufficiently definite to constitute] an offer, and the offer has been communicated by dissemination of the handbook to the employee, the next question is whether there has been an acceptance of the offer and consideration furnished for its enforceability. In the case of unilateral contracts for employment, where an at-will employee retains employment with knowledge of new or changed conditions, the new or changed conditions may become a contractual obligation. In this manner, an original employment contract may be modified or replaced by a subsequent unilateral contract. The employee's retention of employment constitutes acceptance of the offer of a unilateral contract; by continuing to stay on the job, although free to leave, the employee supplies the necessary consideration for the offer.

948 S.W.2d at 393-94 (emphasis added) (quoting Crain Indus., Inc. v. Cass, 810 S.W.2d 910, 914 (Ark. 1991)).

         The dispute resolution agreement was among the policies in the Associate Guide distributed to employees and reviewed by Mr. Wilson. The Guide makes clear that Mr. Wilson's continued employment was conditioned on his review and acknowledgement of the policies, including the dispute resolution agreement. (Doc. 9-1, p. 5). The language of the Guide amounts to a unilateral offer: to continue working for Lenscrafters, employees must review and acknowledge each of the policies in the Guide as applicable. After reviewing the policy, Mr. Wilson was free to leave and seek new employment at any time. He was also free to opt out of the dispute resolution agreement within 30 days of receipt of the Guide. Mr. Wilson did neither. By returning to work, he supplied the necessary consideration for the unilateral offer of employment. His retention of employment-with knowledge of the new policies under the Associate Guide- constituted acceptance.

         Wilson also argues that there is no valid contract because there is no mutuality of obligation. Relying on Alltel Corporation v. Rosenow, 2014 Ark. 375, at *7-9 (2014), Wilson argues that the agreement fails “to provide a mechanism by which both parties could opt-out; instead, the contract only allowed the employee to opt-out.” (Doc. 11, p. 5). “[M]utuality of contract means that an obligation must rest on each party to do or permit to be done something in consideration of the act or promise of the other; thus, neither party is bound unless both are bound.” Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Archer, 147 S.W.3d at 684. However, if an agreement “leaves it entirely optional with one of the parties as to whether or not he will perform his promise his promise would not be ...

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