Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
appeal from the County Court at Law No. 2 of Hidalgo County,
Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Benavides and Longoria
CONTRERAS, CHIEF JUSTICE
Stage Stores, Inc. (Stage) challenges the trial court's
denial of its motion to compel arbitration in a
discrimination suit brought by appellee Joe Eufracio, a
former Stage employee. We reverse and remand.
was employed as a "Market Asset Protection Manager"
at Stage's department stores in south Texas from 1999
until 2016. According to Stage, upon his hiring, Eufracio
signed an "Alternative Dispute Resolution
Acknowledgement" form which stated in its entirety as
Notice of Dispute Resolution Program. The Stage
Stores Inc. Dispute Resolution Program requires that any
dispute between myself and Stage Stores Inc. or its
subsidiaries or affiliates (collectively, the
"Company"), or claim by either of us against the
other, must be resolved through internal Company procedures
or through mediation or final and binding
arbitration. NO SUCH DISPUTE OR CLAIM CAN BE
TAKEN TO COURT OR HEARD BY A JURY. This includes,
but is not limited to, any claim or dispute I might have
involving a Company officer, director, owner, affiliate,
representative, or employee. It also includes, but is not
limited to, any claim based upon a failure or refusal to
hire. I acknowledge that a copy of the complete Dispute
Resolution Program is available to me upon request. I
understand and agree that any offer of employment by the
Company will be in consideration for and subject to my
agreement to be bound by the Dispute Resolution Program which
I show by my signature below. If I choose now, or in the
future, not to comply with the Dispute Resolution Program or
any policy or procedure described in the Employee Handbook,
my employment may be terminated. Even if my employment is
terminated (voluntarily or involuntarily, for any reason),
the Dispute Resolution Program will continue to apply.
(Emphasis in original.)
2015, Eufracio invoked Stage's dispute resolution process
by filing an internal complaint alleging that he had been
subject to race/national origin and age discrimination. The
complaint alleged, among other things, that Eufracio's
supervisor had made offensive and racially disparaging
remarks to him on multiple occasions. Subsequently, in
February 2016, Stage terminated Eufracio's employment,
ostensibly due to "poor performance."
filed the instant suit in Hidalgo County Court at Law Number
2 on May 22, 2017, contending that Stage's actions
constituted discrimination on the basis of age, race,
national origin, and/or disability, in violation of the Texas
Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA). See Tex.
Lab. Code Ann. § 21.051. The petition additionally
alleged that Stage unlawfully retaliated against Eufracio by
firing him. See id. § 21.055.
moved to compel arbitration, arguing that Eufracio signed the
"Alternative Dispute Resolution Acknowledgement"
form in 1999 when he was hired. The motion included a copy of
the form which appeared to be signed by Eufracio and was
dated January 11, 1999. Stage's motion also included a
copy of its Dispute Resolution Program, a 20-page pamphlet
which sets forth mandatory procedures for certain claims,
including a formal internal review, mediation, and binding
arbitration. The document states that "[c]laims for
discrimination" are subject to all of those procedures.
In response to the motion to compel, Eufracio argued that the
arbitration agreement is unenforceable for various reasons,
which we categorize as follows: (1) it is illusory due to a
lack of consideration; (2) it is procedurally unconscionable;
(3) it is "indefinite"; and (4) it "deprives
[him] of an equivalent and accessible forum in which to
effectively prosecute his claims."
hearing on April 23, 2018, Eufracio testified that he first
learned of Stage's Dispute Resolution Program when he was
"presented by [his counsel] the documents of the
lawsuit." When asked whether the signature on the
"Alternative Dispute Resolution Acknowledgement"
form was his, Eufracio replied: "It looks to be but
it's not." He explained that he never signed the
form, and he observed that the form was incomplete because
the spaces for "Associate Number," "Date of
Hire," and "Store Number" were left blank.
Eufracio also denied that he was ever "given" the
Dispute Resolution Program pamphlet. Following Eufracio's
testimony, his counsel stated to the court: "[I]f I had
my preferences on this particular case I would like the
opportunity to go to mediation and if it doesn't settle
at mediation then at some point arbitration would be
discussed and if the Court orders arbitration at that point
then so be it."
the trial court signed an order denying the motion to compel
in its entirety on May 11, 2019, and this interlocutory
appeal followed. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code
Ann. § 51.016. On July 10, 2018, we abated the appeal to
allow the parties to engage in mediation. Because no
agreement was reached at mediation, we reinstated the appeal
on September 13, 2018.