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Wilson v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 11, 2018

BLAKE WILSON, Plaintiff,

          Lisanne M. Butterfield and Emil J. Ali, Carr Butterfield, LLC, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Melinda S. Riechert, Kristin L. Bremer Moore, and Lindsay Reynolds, Tonkon Torp, LLP Attorneys for Defendants.


          Michael H. Simon United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Blake Wilson (“Wilson”) commenced this lawsuit in Oregon state court, alleging employment-related claims against Defendants Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (“BMS”), Bill Nichols, Jr. (“Nichols”) (collectively, “Defendants”), and Does 1 through 10. Both Wilson and Nichols were employed by BMS. Defendants removed the action to federal court. Pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1, et. seq., Defendants move for an order compelling Wilson to arbitrate his claims. Defendants base their motion on a Mutual Arbitration Agreement (“Agreement”) that BMS entered into with all of its non-unionized employees in the United States. BMS and Wilson entered into the Agreement well after Wilson began working for BMS. The Agreement requires an employee to arbitrate all disputes, claims, complaints, or controversies (collectively, “Claims”) that “you have now, or at any time in the future may have, against” BMS or any of its officers or employees. Reciprocally, the Agreement also requires BMS to arbitrate all Claims that it “has now or at any time in the future may have against” the employee. Although many of the key events that support Wilson's claims occurred before he entered into the Agreement, Wilson filed this lawsuit afterward. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion to compel arbitration is granted and this case is dismissed without prejudice.


         The FAA applies to all contracts involving interstate commerce and specifies that “written agreements to arbitrate controversies arising out of an existing contract ‘shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.'” Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v. Byrd, 470 U.S. 213, 218 (1985) (quoting 9 U.S.C. § 2). When a contract contains an arbitration clause, a presumption of arbitrability exists. AT&T Techs., Inc. v. Commc'ns Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 650 (1986); see also Mortensen v. Bresnan Commc'ns, LLC, 722 F.3d 1151, 1157 (9th Cir. 2013) (stating that the party “challenging the enforceability of an arbitration agreement bear[s] the burden of proving that the provision is unenforceable”). Additionally, when “parties concede that they have agreed to arbitrate some matters pursuant to an arbitration clause, the ‘law's permissive policies in respect to arbitration' counsel that ‘any doubts concerning the scope of arbitral issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration.'” Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 298 (2010) (emphasis in original) (quoting First Options of Chi., Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 945 (1995)).

         The text of the FAA “leaves no place for the exercise of discretion by a district court, ” but instead “mandates that district courts shall direct the parties to proceed to arbitration on issues as to which an arbitration agreement has been signed.” Dean Witter, 470 U.S. at 218 (emphasis in original) (citing 9 U.S.C. §§ 3-4). The district court must limit itself “to determining (1) whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists and, if it does, (2) whether the agreement encompasses the dispute at issue.” Chiron Corp. v. Ortho Diagnostic Sys., Inc., 207 F.3d 1126, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000). “If the response is affirmative on both counts, then the [FAA] requires the court to enforce the arbitration agreement in accordance with its terms.” Id.


         BMS is a Delaware corporation that conducts business across the United States, selling products shipped in interstate commerce. In July 2013, BMS hired Wilson as a Territory Business Manager (“TBM”). As alleged in his Complaint, throughout 2015 and 2016, Wilson sought promotion within BMS to the position of District Manager. Wilson received positive and favorable performance reviews and produced exemplary sales figures that were recognized and rewarded within BMS. Several BMS managers wrote letters of recommendation in support of Wilson's application for a District Manager position.

         As part of his work for BMS, Wilson attended an international medical conference in Vienna, Austria in April 2015. Nichols also attended that conference as part of his work as a national sales and marketing executive for BMS. As alleged in the Complaint, during their time together in Vienna, Nichols pressured Wilson to spend time with Nichols at sexually explicit nude adult bars. Wilson declined, but considered Nichols' pressure to be harassing. In May 2015, Wilson reported this harassment to the acting director of Human Resources for BMS. Wilson also reported that he had witnessed Nichols sexually harassing other BMS subordinates. According to Wilson, BMS management threatened and coerced Wilson to try to get him to drop his harassment allegations because Nichols' conduct occurred outside the United States and during Nichols' personal, or off-duty, time.

         In June 2015 and August 2015, Wilson was nominated for promotion to the position of Executive TBM. In that position, Wilson would have received a pay raise and eligibility for an increase in his bonus target. After Nichols saw a copy of the August 2015 promotion nomination of Wilson, Nichols informed Wilson that Nichols would not support Wilson's promotion because he was not a team player and failed to demonstrate that he knew “his place” in the organization.

         On December 15, 2015, BMS sent an email to its employees, including Wilson. BMS explained that it was implementing a new alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) policy with all of its non-unionized employees in the United States. The notice explained that both BMS and all non-unionized United States employees must agree to mandatory, binding arbitration for any employment-related disputes that either side may have against the other. The email contained a link to the Mutual Arbitration Agreement. BMS directed these employees to review and accept the Agreement before January 22, 2016. Each of these employees was required to accept this Agreement in order to remain employed with BMS, to be eligible for the 2016 bonus plan, and to be eligible for the 2016 incentive compensation plan. Eligibility for BMS's 2015 bonus plan and 2015 incentive compensation plan, however, were not conditioned on an employee accepting the Agreement. Twice in January 2016, BMS sent reminders to employees who had not yet signed the Agreement. On January 20, 2016, Wilson electronically signed the Mutual Arbitration Agreement, confirming his acceptance of the terms of the Agreement.

         Also in January 2016, according to Wilson, a BMS management representative acknowledged Wilson's exemplary job performance and informed him that he would receive a promotion. Also in January 2016, Nichols threatened Wilson with termination of his employment if Wilson continued to contact Nichols regarding the status of Wilson's promotion. During the first six months of 2016, Wilson received positive feedback from BMS, but also continued to receive threats and negative comments from Nichols. Wilson contends that Nichols' negative performance comments were pretext.

         In June 2016, Wilson and Nichols met, during which Nichols threatened to put Wilson on a performance improvement plan if Wilson did not drop his allegations that Nichols had engaged in harassment. Wilson perceived this to be a threat that Nichols would retaliate against Wilson if he continued to maintain his allegations. In August 2016, Wilson was denied his expected promotion. Wilson ...

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