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Cooper-Dorsey v. Time Warner Cable

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

October 29, 2019

GREER COOPER-DORSEY, Respondent,
v.
TIME WARNER CABLE, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY The Honorable Justine E. Del Muro, Judge

          Before Karen King Mitchell, Chief Judge, Presiding Lisa White Hardwick and Thomas N. Chapman, Judges

          LISA WHITE HARDWICK, JUDGE

         Time Warner Cable ("TWC")[1] appeals the circuit court's denial of its motion to compel arbitration of claims brought by Greer Cooper-Dorsey, a former TWC employee. TWC contends the court erred in denying the motion to compel because the arbitration contract between the parties contained a delegation provision that required questions of arbitrability to be submitted to an arbitrator. Alternatively, TWC argues that the circuit court erred in determining that there was not a valid arbitration agreement between the parties. For reasons explained herein, we reverse the denial of the motion to compel arbitration and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Cooper-Dorsey filed a petition in the Jackson County Circuit Court against TWC and three TWC supervisors alleging work-related claims of age discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act ("MHRA"). TWC subsequently filed a motion to compel arbitration asserting that the onboarding forms provided to Cooper-Dorsey at the beginning of her direct employment contained an agreement requiring that this dispute be submitted to final and binding arbitration.[2]

         The onboarding form entitled "Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate" stated, inter alia:

that any and all claims, disputes, and/or controversies between you and TWC arising from or related to your employment with TWC shall be submitted exclusively to and determined exclusively by binding arbitration before a single Judicial Arbitration and Mediations Services, Inc. ("JAMS") arbitrator under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. ("FAA").

         The form also stated:

You and TWC further agree that all arbitration proceedings shall be conducted in accordance with the JAMS Employment Arbitration Rules & Procedures [('JAMS rules")] and JAMS Policy on Employment Arbitration Minimum Standards of Procedural Fairness . . . [p]lease read the JAMS rules carefully before electronically signing this agreement."

         The JAMS rules were not set forth in the onboarding document, but the form included a hyperlink to the JAMS website.

         After receiving Cooper-Dorsey's suggestions in opposition to TWC's motion to compel arbitration, but before allowing TWC to file a reply, the circuit court summarily denied TWC's motion. TWC appeals.

         Standard of Review

         Whether the circuit court properly granted or denied a motion to compel arbitration is a question of law that we review de novo. Ellis v. JF Enters., LLC, 482 S.W.3d 417, 419 (Mo. banc 2016).

         Analysis

         I. Delegation Provision

         In Point I, TWC asserts that the circuit court erred in denying its motion to compel arbitration because the agreement to arbitrate between the parties contained a delegation provision that required questions of arbitrability to be submitted to an arbitrator. In response, Cooper-Dorsey contends: (1) the agreement to arbitrate did not properly incorporate a delegation provision; (2) TWC did not adequately demonstrate that the two parties had executed the agreement to delegate threshold questions to the arbitrator; and (3) the delegation provision is unconscionable.

         A. The Federal Arbitration Act

         The enforceability of arbitration agreements in all contracts involving interstate commerce is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA").[3] State el rel. Hewitt v. Kerr, 461 S.W.3d 798, 805 (Mo. banc 2015). Cooper-Dorsey does not dispute TWC's contention that the employment contract between the parties involves interstate commerce; hence, we will apply the provisions of the FAA in interpreting the arbitration agreement.

         "The FAA reflects the fundamental principle that arbitration is a matter of contract." Rent-A-Ctr., West, Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63, 67 (2010). Section 2 of the act provides, in pertinent part:

A written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such ...

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