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Peterson v. Minerva Surgical, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 23, 2019

DANIEL PETERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MINERVA SURGICAL, INC. and DAVID CLAPPER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          KATHRYN H. VRATIL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On January 30, 2019, Daniel Peterson filed suit against Minerva Surgical, Inc. and David Clapper. Complaint (Doc. #1). Plaintiff alleges that defendants failed to make reasonable employment accommodations for his disabilities, retaliated against him by terminating his employment and interfered with his future employment. This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion To Dismiss Or, In The Alternative, Stay Proceedings And Compel Arbitration (Doc. #11) filed May 3, 2019. For reasons stated below, the Court sustains defendants' motion.

         Factual Background

         Highly summarized, plaintiff's complaint alleges as follows:

         Plaintiff was an employee of Minerva for over two and a half years. During the course of this employment, plaintiff suffered from one or more disabling conditions, which included anxiety and a condition stemming from a severe cervical spine injury that he sustained during military service. During his employment, plaintiff made requests for reasonable accommodations and in April of 2018, took a leave of absence. Over the next several months, plaintiff sought additional reasonable accommodations to allow him to return to work. Minerva denied these requests, however, and instead made managerial realignments. To remove himself from an unhealthy work environment, plaintiff sought alternative employment during his leave of absence, including with Arrinex Incorporated. David Clapper, Minerva's Chief Executive Officer, told Arrinex that plaintiff had cheated on business expenses while working for Minerva.

         Despite plaintiff's attempts to resolve the accommodation issues, Minerva did not allow him to return to work, and claimed that it had returned plaintiff to unpaid leave status. Minerva then claimed that plaintiff had voluntarily resigned. Plaintiff filed suit against Minerva and Clapper, alleging that they failed to make reasonable employment accommodations for his disabilities, retaliated by terminating his employment and interfered with his future employment.

         Defendants ask the Court to dismiss or stay this action because plaintiff's employment agreement contained an enforceable arbitration clause, which encompasses all of his claims. The employment agreement contains a section titled “Arbitration and Equitable Relief, ” which states as follows:

I agree that any and all controversies, claims, or disputes with anyone (including the company and any employee, officer, director, shareholder, or benefit plan of the company, in their capacity as such or otherwise), whether brought on an individual, group, or class basis, arising out of, relating to, or resulting from my employment with the company or the termination of my employment with the company, including any breach of this agreement, shall be subject to binding arbitration . . . pursuant to California law.

Exh. A to Defendants' Motion To Compel Arbitration (Doc. #11) at 7. The agreement also contains a forum selection clause which specifies that “any arbitration under this Agreement shall be conducted in San Mateo County, California.” Id.

         Legal Standard

         Defendants assert that the Court should dismiss or stay this case and compel arbitration because they entered into a valid arbitration agreement with plaintiff, which the Court should enforce pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 3.[1] Congress enacted the FAA “in response to widespread judicial hostility to arbitration agreements.” Beltran v. AuPairCare, Inc., 907 F.3d 1240, 1250 (10th Cir. 2018) (quoting AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011)). Under the FAA, a written provision in “any . . . 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 grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” Id. (quoting 9 U.S.C. § 2). Thus, the FAA directs the Court to determine (1) whether the parties “are bound by a given arbitration clause” and (2) whether the arbitration clause “applies to a particular type of controversy.” Id. (quoting Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 84 (2002)). If the controversy is subject to an enforceable arbitration agreement, the Court will “stay the trial of the action until such arbitration has been had in accordance with the terms of the agreement.” 9 U.S.C. § 3.

         Analysis

         I. Enforceability Of Arbitration And Forum Selection Clauses

         Defendants assert that they entered into an enforceable arbitration agreement with plaintiff. When parties have entered into an arbitration agreement, the Court determines whether it is unenforceable “upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” Beltran, 907 F.3d at 1250-51. Accordingly, the Court can invalidate an arbitration agreement under “generally applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, duress, or unconscionability.” Id. at 1251. State law governs these defenses. Id. Here, the parties do not dispute that pursuant to the choice-of-law provision in ...


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