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Robbins v. Comcast Cable Communications LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

August 30, 2019

CORRIE ROBBINS, individually, Plaintiff,
v.
COMCAST CABLE COMMUNICATIONS, LLC, a Delaware Limited Liability Company; and COMCAST CABLE COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMNET, LLC, a Delaware Limited Liability Company, d/b/a COMCAST CORPORATION, Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION DKT. # 8

          RONALD B. LEIGHTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Comcast Corporation's Motion to Compel Arbitration. Dkt. # 8. The underlying case involves allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation at the workplace. Comcast argue that Plaintiff Corrie Robbins should be compelled to arbitrate this dispute consistent with the company's alternative dispute resolution program. In opposition, Robbins claims that she never agreed to be bound by an arbitration agreement.

         For the following reasons, DENIES Comcast's Motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Robbins began working at Comcast in 1999. She alleges that in 2017 she began experiencing sexual harassment at work. After some time, she managed to get transferred to a different team and then started working from home. However, Comcast later discharged Robbins on August 21, 2018. She filed the current lawsuit asserting discrimination-related claims on June 12, 2019, in state court. Defendants removed the case to federal court on July 1. They then filed the current Motion to Compel Arbitration, claiming that Robbins opted to participate in Comcast's alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program known as “Comcast Solutions.”

         Comcast Solutions was rolled out in 2013 and entails three steps for resolving disputes. The first step is an informal “review/facilitation” process and the second step is mediation. Dkt. # 9, Ex. B, at 4-6. If both of these fail, the employee may request that the parties proceed to step three, which is binding arbitration. Id. at 6. Under the program, the parties mutually select an arbitrator from a professional dispute resolution organization. Id. The parties are allowed some limited discovery and may obtain their own legal representation. Id. at 6-7. Comcast pays for the arbitration hearing and reimburses the employee for up to $1, 500 of their legal fees, regardless of the outcome. Id. at 7. However, all results are kept confidential. Id. The program covers all “claims that involve an allegation that the employee personally has been harmed or damaged by an unlawful action taken by the Company or its representatives related to the employment relationship.” Dkt. # 9, Ex. C, at 3.

         Comcast took several steps to inform existing employees of its new ADR program. First, Comcast mailed a cover letter and brochure to all employees at their address of record on September 27, 2013. Dkt. # 9 at 2. The cover letter informed employees that Comcast Solutions was an “additional resource” offering a “faster, less expensive, and impartial option for addressing concerns of a legal nature affecting your employment.” Dkt. # 9, Ex. D. In bold, the letter states, “Your Action Required: . . . If you prefer not to participate in the program, all you need to do is complete an “Opt Out” form . . . and return it no later than November 8, 2013.” Id. The brochure is a seven-page document that broadly describes the Comcast Solution's 3-step approach. Dkt. # 9, Ex. A. However, it only mentions that the program involves waiving access to the judicial system in regular-sized text on the last few pages. Id. at 5-6.

         Second, Comcast sent out a mass email to employees on October 16, 2013, with the subject line “Comcast Solutions.” Dkt. # 9 at 3. The email began by stating, “Information regarding a new program called Comcast Solutions was recently mailed to your home address” and provided a link to a website with the program brochure. Dkt. # 9, Ex. F. The email went on to tell employees that “[t]he consideration period for participation in the Comcast Solutions Program ends on Friday, November 8, 2013. . . . [I]f you do not wish to participate in the program, you will need to complete and return an ‘opt out' form . . . by no later than November 8, 2013, if you have not already done so.” Id.

         Third, every year Comcast has employees acknowledge the company's Code of Conduct and Employee Handbook. Dkt. # 21 at 2. The acknowledgements form for 2017 and 2018 specifically state the following:

Unless I am not participating in Comcast Solutions because I (i) previously "opted out" of the program during the program roll out period, or (ii) am covered by a collective bargaining agreement or an authorized employment agreement which does not include participation in Comcast Solutions, I understand that the Comcast Solutions Program is a mutually-binding contract between me and Comcast and that my continued employment with Comcast is confirmation that I am bound by the terms of the Comcast Solutions Program. Further information about the Comcast Solutions Program - including the Program Guide, Frequently Asked Questions, and various Program forms (including the Initial Filing form) -- is available for me to review on ComcastNow.

Dkt. # 21, Ex. A, at 5, 7. The acknowledgements also state, “I understand that if I click ‘I do not acknowledge' and disclose an exception below, I . . . am still bound by the Comcast Solutions policy.” Id. . at 6, 8.

         Comcast presents evidence that it mailed the September 27 cover letter and brochure to Robbins at her address of record, which was 1214 179th St. Ct. E, Spanaway, WA. Dkt. # 9, Ex. E. The letter was not returned as undeliverable. Dkt. # 9 at 3. Comcast also shows that the October 16 email was sent to Robbins at her work email address and was opened. Id. Comcast's email system allows the company to require a recipient to verify that they read a particular email, and Robbins provided such verification for the Comcast Solutions email. Dkt. # 9, Ex. G. There is also evidence that Robbins acknowledged Comcast's Code of Conduct and Employee Handbook for the years 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Dkt. # 21, Ex. A. Comcast has no record of Robbins opting out of its ADR program. Dkt. # 9 at 3.

         Robbins, however, disputes that she received and viewed the Comcast Solutions letter and email. In her sworn declaration, Robbins states that she owned the 1214 179th St. property in 2013 but had moved to a different address a few minutes away in 2004. Dkt. # 19 at 3. Comcast's records show that Robbins did not update her employee information to reflect this new home address until 2017. Dkt. # 21 at 2. Robbins also states that she never opened any email regarding Comcast Solutions. Dkt. # 19 at 2. She explains that she received over 100 emails per day while working for Comcast and claims that, although she may have technically opened the email by scrolling through subject lines on her screen, she did not read its contents or open ...


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