United States District Court, D. Maryland
RICHARD D. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiff “Gabrielle Doe” (“Plaintiff” or “Doe”) filed this putative class action lawsuit against Defendants The New Ritz, Inc., Ritz of Baltimore, Inc., O.I. Enterprises, Inc., Omid Ilkhan, Joseph J. Soltas, David Hitchiner, Ari Cohen, and Michelle Silver (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., and the Maryland Wage and Hour Law, Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl., §§ 3-401 et seq. Compl., ECF No. 1. Defendants filed a Motion to Compel Disclosure of Plaintiff’s True Identity (ECF No. 26), which this Court granted via Memorandum Order dated February 5, 2016 (ECF No. 37). Currently pending before this Court are Defendants’ Motion to Compel Arbitration and to Dismiss or Stay the Litigation (ECF No. 38) and separate Motion to Stay Proceedings (ECF No. 39), pending resolution of the Motion to Compel Arbitration. The parties’ submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons stated herein, Defendants’ Motion to Compel Arbitration and to Dismiss the Litigation (ECF No. 38) is GRANTED. Accordingly, the parties will proceed to arbitration, and the Complaint is Dismissed.
The background facts of this action were set forth fully in Judge Quarles’ Memorandum Opinion of July 14, 2015 (ECF No. 11). To summarize, Doe alleges that she worked as an exotic dancer at Ritz Cabaret Gentleman’s Club (“Ritz Cabaret”), owned and operated by Defendants, from January of 2012 to August of 2014. Mem. Op., p. 2, ECF No. 11. Although classified as an independent contractor by Defendants, Doe asserts that she and other exotic dancers were employees. Id. at 2, n. 7. Doe allegedly worked fifty-five hours per week, but did not receive minimum wage for all hours worked or duties performed. Id. at 2. Instead, Defendants forced Doe to pay certain charges, fees, and fines for, inter alia, music, VIP access, and late arrival, before even beginning her work shift. Id. Because of these deductions, Plaintiff alleges that she “receiv[ed] negative wages.” Id. at 3.
Doe, under the present pseudonym, filed this action on July 25, 2014, alleging repeated violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., and the Maryland Wage and Hour Law, Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-401 et seq. Compl., ECF No. 1. Shortly thereafter, Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint, arguing that Plaintiff should not be permitted to proceed under a pseudonym. See Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 9. Doe subsequently filed an affidavit (ECF No. 10-2) to accompany her opposition (ECF No. 10), in which she articulated her substantial fear of physical and mental retaliation by the Defendants. Judge Quarles of this Court ultimately denied Defendants’ Motion, thereby permitting Plaintiff to proceed anonymously. See Mem. Op., ECF No. 11; Order, ECF No. 12. Subsequently, Defendants filed a Motion to Compel Disclosure of Plaintiff’s True Identity (ECF No. 26), which this Court granted via Memorandum Order dated February 5, 2016 (ECF No. 37), upon reassignment to the undersigned. Having verified Doe’s real name, counsel for Defendants now have sufficient information to contend that she “entered into a valid and binding arbitration agreement and a class and collective action waiver that encompass her claims in this action.” Mem. Supp. Mot. to Compel, p. 1, ECF No. 38-1. Accordingly, Defendants have filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration and to Dismiss or Stay the Litigation (ECF No. 38) and a separate Motion to Stay Proceedings (ECF No. 39), pending resolution of the Motion to Compel Arbitration.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Defendants have brought the pending Motion to Compel Arbitration (ECF No. 38) pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reiterated this month that the standard of review on a Motion to Compel Arbitration, pursuant to the FAA, is “ ‘akin to the burden on summary judgment.’ ” Galloway v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., F.3d, No. 15-1392, 2016 WL 1393121, at *4 (4th Cir. Apr. 8, 2016) (quoting Chorley Enterprises, Inc. v. Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc., 807 F.3d 553, 564 (4th Cir. 2015)). “Under the FAA, ‘the party seeking a jury trial must make an unequivocal denial that an arbitration agreement exists- and must also . . . provide sufficient evidence in support of its claims such that a reasonable jury could return a favorable verdict under applicable law . . . . [T]o obtain a jury trial, the parties must show genuine issues of material fact regarding the existence of an agreement to arbitrate.’ ”
Defendants contend that Plaintiff entered into a Dancer Performance Lease (“Lease Agreement”), which governed her performances at the Ritz Cabaret. Paragraph 21 of the Lease Agreement included the following arbitration provision:
ANY CONTROVERY, DISPUTE, OR CLAIM (IN THIS PARAGRAPH 21, COLLECTIVELY “CLAIM”) ARISING OUT OF THIS LEASE OR OUT OF ENTERTAINER PERFORMING AT THE CLUB, WHETHER CONTRACTUAL, IN TORT, OR BASED UPON COMMON LAW OR STATUTE, SHALL BE EXCLUSIVELY DECIDED BY BINDING ARBITRATION HELD PURSUANT TO THE FEDERAL ARBITRATION ACT (the “FAA”), AND SHALL BE ADMINISTERED BY A NEUTRAL ARBITRATOR AGREED UPON BY THE PARTIES, WHO SHALL BE PERMITTED TO AWARD, SUBJECT ONLY TO THE RESTRICTIONS CONTAINED IN THIS PARAGRAPH 21, ANY RELIEF AVAILABLE IN A COURT. THE PARTIES WAIVE ANY RIGHT TO LITIGATE SUCH CLAIMS IN A COURT OF LAW, AND WAIVE THE RIGHT TO TRIAL BY JURY. . . . THE ARBITRATOR SHALL HAVE EXCLUSIVE AUTHORITY TO RESOLVE ANY AND ALL DISPUTES OVER THE VALIDITY AND/OR ENFORCEABILITY OF ANY PART OF THIS LEASE, INCLUDING THIS AGREEMENT TO ARBITRATE ANY AND ALL CLAIMS. Lease Agreement, Def. Ex. 1, ¶ 21(A), ECF No. 38-2.
The agreement also included the following waiver of any right to proceed with claims on a class or collective basis:
ENTERTAINER AGREES THAT ALL CLAIMS BETWEEN HER AND THE CLUB (AND ANY OTHER PERSONS OR ENTITIES ASSOCIATED WITH THE CLUB) SHALL BE BROUGHT AND MAINTAINED BY HER INDIVIDUALLY; THAT SHE WILL NOT CONSOLIDATE HER CLAIMS WITH THE CLAIMS OF ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL; THAT SHE WILL NOT SEEK CLASS OR COLLECTIVE ACTION TREATMENT FOR ANY CLAIM THAT SHE MAY HAVE; AND THAT SHE W[I]LL NOT PARTICIPATE IN ANY CLASS OR COLLECTIVE ACTION AGAINST THE CLUB OR AGAINST ANY PERSONS OR ENTITIES ASSOCIATED WITH THE CLUB. IF AT ANY TIME ENTERTAINER IS MADE A MEMBER OF A CLASS IN ANY PROCEEDING, SHE WILL “OPT-OUT” AT THE FIRST OPPORTUNITY, AND SHOULD ANY THIRD PARTY PURSUE ANY CLAIMS ON HER BEHALF, ENTERTAINER SHALL WAIVE HER RIGHTS TO ANY SUCH MONETARY RECOVERY. Id. at ¶ 21(B).
Accordingly, Defendants request that this Court compel arbitration of Plaintiff’s claims in accordance with this Lease Agreement and the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. See Mem. Supp. Mot. to Compel, p. 6, ECF No. 38-1.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit this month reiterated that the Federal Arbitration Act provides, with limited exceptions, that “ ‘[a] written provision in . . . a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction, or the refusal to perform the whole or any part thereof, . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable.’ ” Galloway v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., ____F.3d ___, No. 15-1392, 2016 WL 1393121, at *4 (4th Cir. Apr. 8, 2016) (quoting 9 U.S.C. § 2). A party seeking to apply the FAA must demonstrate four elements: “ ‘(1) the existence of a dispute between the parties, (2) a written agreement that includes an arbitration provision which purports to cover the dispute, (3) the relationship of the transaction, which is evidenced by the agreement, to interstate or foreign commerce, and (4) the ...