United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION
Rosenthal, Chief United States District Judge.
plaintiff, Dr. Rebecca Poole-Ward, worked as an obstetrician
and gynecologist for Affiliates for Women's Health, a
medical practice in Brazos County, Texas. She alleges that
Affiliates denied her reasonable accommodations for her
disabilities and eventually terminated her because of
discrimination based on her disabilities. Dr. Poole alleged
that Affiliates violated the Americans with Disabilities Act,
42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and her written
employment agreement. She sued under the Act and state
contract law. (Docket Entry No.1). Affiliates moved to
dismiss in favor of arbitration, Dr. Poole responded,
Affiliates replied, and Dr. Poole sur-replied. (Docket Entry
Nos. 7, 10, 11, and 13). The court held a hearing at which
counsel presented oral argument on the motion to dismiss. The
court indicated its belief that the motion should be granted
under applicable clear law and that an opinion would issue
analyzing the motion and responses in detail.
the hearing, Dr. Poole filed an unfair labor practices
complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. (Docket
Entry No. 17, Ex. 1). She then filed a motion to reconsider
or stay the execution of the not-yet-issued order dismissing
in favor of arbitration, (Docket Entry No. 17), asking the
court to rule that the arbitration agreement violates the
National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 151 et
seq. Affiliates filed a response in opposition to that
motion, and Dr. Poole filed a reply. (Docket Entry Nos.
on the filings, arguments, and applicable law, the motion to
dismiss in favor of arbitration under the parties'
employment agreement is granted. Because the motion to
reconsider or stay execution of the order was filed before
the court ruled on the motion to compel arbitration, it is
denied as moot.
employment disability-discrimination and contract dispute
requires the court to consider the intersection of the
Federal Arbitration Act and the National Labor Relations Act.
In this litigation, Dr. Poole alleged that she has a number
of disabilities, including attention-deficit hyperactivity
disorder, migraines, and posttraumatic stress disorder due to
an assault. Dr. Poole alleged that her disabilities have
substantially impaired her capacity to work, sleep, care for
herself, and interact with others, and that she has
headaches, weight loss, difficulty sleeping, emotional
anxiety, paranoia, flashbacks, and fear in certain
circumstances. She alleged that she asked for the following
accommodations from Affiliates: time off to rest or
recuperate from her migraine episodes, to take medication for
her disabilities, and to go to doctor's appointments;
that one Affiliates employee not wear a wristwatch that was
similar to the one worn by Dr. Poole's assailant; that
Affiliates employees not discuss the details of Dr.
Poole's assault; a reduction in the number of hours she
was on call after hours for emergencies; and that Affiliates
allow her to switch on-call coverage if she experienced a
posttraumatic-stress-disorder event that resulted in the loss
Poole alleged that Affiliates granted some of her requested
accommodations but denied others. She alleged that Affiliates
ridiculed and questioned her accommodation requests and did
not explain, document, or engage in interactive dialogue when
it denied her requests. She alleged that her termination for
failing to perform her duties was a pretext for terminating
her based on disability discrimination. She alleged that
Affiliates violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by
denying her reasonable accommodations for, and terminating
her on the basis of, her disabilities. She also alleged that
Affiliates breached their written employment agreement by
Poole's employment agreement contains an arbitration
clause. The clause covers, with an exception not relevant
here, any “dispute, claim or controversy arising out of
or relating to this Agreement, the employment of the Doctor
by the Association or the relationships between the Doctor
and any member of the Association or its employees . . .
pursuant to the Texas Arbitration Act, [Tex. Civ. Prac. &
Rem. Code § 171].” (Docket Entry No. 7, Ex. 1).
Dr. Poole does not dispute that the agreement exists or that
it encompasses the claims she asserted in the complaint.
(Docket Entry No. 10).
motion to dismiss and compel arbitration, Affiliates argues
that this lawsuit must be dismissed in favor of the
arbitration the parties contracted for. (Docket Entry No. 7).
Dr. Poole responds that although she signed the employment
agreement with a generally enforceable broad arbitration
clause encompassing her claims, the arbitration clause is
nonetheless unenforceable because it unlawfully interferes
with her rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
(Docket Entry No. 10). She argues that the arbitration clause
is so broad that an employee would reasonably interpret it to
prohibit the filing of an unfair labor practices complaint
with the National Labor Relations Board. She argues that the
Board and Fifth Circuit have held that employers may not
maintain or enforce arbitration agreements that violate the
Act, and that the “lawfulness of the arbitration term
is to be decided independently of Dr. Poole's
actions.” (Docket Entry No. 17 at p.2). Affiliates
responds that Dr. Poole did not raise any claim under the
National Labor Relations Act in her original complaint; Dr.
Poole was either a supervisor or a professional, not an
employee covered by the Act; the arbitration agreement is not
a company-wide agreement, which distinguishes it from the
agreements discussed in the cases Dr. Poole cited; Dr. Poole
presented no authority supporting her claim that the
arbitration agreement is invalid as to her; and Dr. Poole
filed her National Labor Relations Board complaint too late
to make it a basis to refuse arbitration. (Docket Entry No.
parties' arguments and responses are analyzed under the
applicable legal standards.
The Legal Standards
Texas, a party asking a court to compel arbitration must show
“(1) an agreement to arbitrate; and (2) the opposing
party's refusal to arbitrate.” Tex. Civ. Prac.
& Rem. Code § 171.021; see, e.g., G.T.
Leach Builders, LLC v. Sapphire V.P., LP, 458 S.W.3d.
502, 520 (Tex. 2015). When a contract contains a clause
specifying Texas law (as here), but does not exclude the
applicability of the Federal Arbitration Act, both the
Federal and Texas Arbitration Acts apply. Freudensprung
v. Offshore Technical Servs., Inc., 379 F.3d 327, 338
n.7 (5th Cir. 2004).
the Federal Act, a written agreement to arbitrate
“shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save
upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the
revocation of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2. The Act
reflects “a liberal policy favoring arbitration
agreements, ” AT&T Mobility LLC v.
Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 346 (2011), and places
arbitration agreements “upon the same footing as other
contracts, ” Schnabel v. Trilegiant Corp., 697
F.3d 110, 118 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Scherk v.
Alberto-Culver Co., 417 U.S. 506, 511 (1974)).
of an arbitration agreement involves two threshold analytical
steps governed by state contract law. Kubala v. Supreme
Prod. Servs., Inc., 830 F.3d 199, 201 (5th Cir. 2016).
The first step is contract formation-to determine whether the
parties entered into “any arbitration agreement at
all.” Id. While arbitration agreements, like
other contracts, may be invalidated by contract defenses like
fraud, duress, unconscionability, or waiver, none applies
here. Doctor's Assocs., Inc. v. Casarotto, 517
U.S. 681, 687 (1996). Because of the strong presumption in
favor of arbitration, “a party seeking to invalidate an
arbitration agreement bears the burden of establishing its
invalidity.” Carter v. Countrywide Credit Indus.,
Inc., 362 F.3d 294, 297 (5th Cir. 2004). It is
undisputed that Dr. Poole and Affiliates agreed to arbitrate.
The second analytical step is contract interpretation-to
determine whether the claim at issue is covered by the
arbitration agreement. Kubala, 830 F.3d at 201. The
Fifth Circuit has “instructed that ‘a court is
required to enforce a party's commitment to arbitrate his
federal statutory claims.'” Reyna v. Int'l