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GC Services Limited Partnership v. Little

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

October 23, 2019

GC SERVICES LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, a Delaware limited partnership, Petitioner,
DENISE LITTLE, an individual, Respondent.


          Lee H. Rosenthal, Chief United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction: The Issues

         GC Services LP sued Denise Little, a former employee, seeking to enjoin her from pursuing the race-discrimination lawsuit she filed against GC Services in Missouri state court, because she allegedly electronically signed a mandatory arbitration agreement as part of her online application for permanent employment. Ms. Little denied electronically signing the agreement. After this court denied Ms. Little's motion to dismiss, GC Services moved to compel arbitration and to enjoin her from pursuing her state-court action. (Docket Entry Nos. 16, 20).

         The court held a bench trial on October 14, 2019, on whether Ms. Little had electronically signed the agreement to arbitrate her claims against GC Services. The parties submitted exhibits and presented evidence. Ms. Little and Amber Taylor, GC Services's Human Resources Regulatory Compliance Director, testified. Jeanetta Parris, an assistant manager for GC Services, and Allison Smith, a payroll specialist, testified by deposition. Based on the pleadings, the briefs, the exhibits, the testimony, the arguments of counsel, and the applicable law, the court enters the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:[1]

. Ms. Little electronically signed the Mutual Agreement for Dispute Resolution that required her to submit to binding arbitration “all legally cognizable disputes between” herself and GC Services.
. Ms. Little and GC Services formed a valid and broad agreement to arbitrate all disputes. GC Services is entitled to arbitrate the claims Ms. Little has asserted in her state-court lawsuit. Ms. Little is ordered to stay her pursuit of her Missouri state-court lawsuit pending the arbitration.

         The reasons for these findings and conclusions are explained in detail below.

         II. Findings of Fact

         A. Background

         In February 2017, Denise Little filed an online application for permanent employment with GC Services, a call-center management company, in the company's Missouri office. (Docket Entry No. 45-1 at 1-14). She had been a temporary employee placed with GC Services by the employment agency she worked for, NextGen. (Id. at 53).

         While Ms. Little was working for NextGen, an Assistant Manager at GC Services, Jeanetta Parris, handed her a piece of paper with a link for the online application for permanent employment with GC Services, with instructions to complete the online application by February 26, 2017. (Docket Entry No. 46-1 at 157-59, 167-68, 171). An email timestamped 6:51 p.m. on February 26, 2017, from Ms. Parris to her manager at GC Services, Barrye Brasher, states that Ms. Parris “gave each agent” present in the room a paper with the GC Services job posting link. (Docket Entry No. 45-1 at 45). The email includes Ms. Little's name as an agent who received the link. (Id.).

         Amber Taylor, the Director of Human Resources Regulatory Compliance for GC Services, credibly testified and explained the GC Services online application process, including its applicant-tracking system. GC Services uses, and used when Ms. Little's application was filed, a third-party applicant-tracking system called iCIMS. Each applicant must create a unique iCIMS username and password. GC Services does not have access to an applicant's unique login information. The applicant's then-employer, such as NextGen, does not have the ability to access the username or password unless the applicant volunteers to disclose it. Ms. Taylor credibly testified that in her experience, no applicant has disclosed to his or her present employer, the login or password created to apply to become a GC Services employee. Ms. Taylor could not identify a reason an applicant would want to do so.

         All online applicants then complete their employment application forms by providing personal information, including their social security number, educational and employment history, and contact information. Before applicants can submit a complete application form, they must “click the box” to electronically sign various documents, including a Mutual Agreement for Dispute Resolution. If an applicant clicks ‘Submit' without checking the box to electronically sign the Dispute Resolution Agreement, that applicant cannot proceed to the next step of the application process. An applicant using the online application system can submit the form only after the user checks the signature box and clicks ‘Submit' at the bottom of the Mutual Agreement for Dispute Resolution. Ms. Little does not dispute, and offered no evidence controverting, the requirement to include an electronically signed Dispute Resolution Agreement before an application is submitted to GC Services.

         The Dispute Resolution Agreement states:

All Disputes Must be Arbitrated. It is the intent of the parties hereto that all legally cognizable disputes between them that cannot be resolved to the parties' satisfaction through use of the Company's personnel policies, must be resolved by final and binding arbitration. Claims subject to arbitration include all legally cognizable claims in the broadest context and include, but are not limited to, any dispute about the interpretation, applicability, validity, existence, enforcement, or extent of arbitrability of or under this Agreement, and any claim arising under federal, state, or local statute, regulation, or ordinance, any alleged contract, or under the common law. This includes, by way of non-exhaustive illustration only, any claim of employment discrimination in any alleged form . . . or any other claim, whether contractual, common-law, statutory, or regulatory arising out of, or in any way related to, Individual's application for employment with and/or employment with Company, the termination thereof, this Agreement, or any other matter incident or in any manner related thereto.

(Docket Entry No. 45-1 at 11). The Dispute Resolution Agreement allows suits “to compel or in aid of arbitration, ” but these suits can be “brought solely and only in the state or federal courts located in Houston, Harris County, Texas.” (Id. at 11-12).

         After an applicant submits a completed application, which must include checking the signature box for the Dispute Resolution Agreement, a GC Services representative countersigns the Dispute Resolution Agreement. GC Services is unable to edit any of the forms or documents, or their timestamps, aside from countersigning them. If and when GC Services decides to hire an applicant and countersigns the forms, it extends a conditional employment offer pending drug screening. Applicants complete the drug screen only after receiving the countersigned form and the conditional offer.

         GC Services hired Ms. Little as a permanent employee to work in Missouri on March 7, 2017, based on the online application completed with her name, login and password, and personal information. (Id. at 1-14, 44, 82). GC Services terminated Ms. Little's employment on August 21, 2017, citing performance reasons. (Id. at 44). In February 2019, Ms. Little sued GC Services in Missouri state court, alleging violations of the Missouri Human Rights Act based on sex and racial discrimination. (Docket Entry No. 1 at ¶ 5; Docket Entry No. 1-2). GC Services alleges that its counsel told Ms. Little that she had to arbitrate her claims, but that Ms. Little refused to do so. (Docket Entry No. 1 at ¶ 20). In April 2019, GC Services sued Ms. Little in this court and moved to compel arbitration, arguing that Ms. Little had agreed to arbitrate any disputes related to her employment. (Id. at ¶ 21; Docket Entry No. 20). GC Services has also sought to enjoin Ms. Little from continuing her lawsuit in Missouri state court. (Id.). Ms. Little does not dispute that the claims she asserts in that lawsuit are within the scope of the Dispute Resolution Agreement. (Docket Entry No. 23). Instead, she has denied that she signed the Dispute Resolution Agreement, arguing that the electronic signature on the Dispute Resolution Agreement cannot be attributed to her. (Id.).

         B. Ms. Little Electronically Signed the Dispute ...

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