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White v. Aetna Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

May 29, 2019

LAVONNE WHITE PLAINTIFF
v.
AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES R. SIMPSON III, SENIOR JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on two motions of Defendant Aetna Life Insurance Company (“Aetna”). First, Aetna moves for partial dismissal, or in the alternative, to stay proceedings and compel arbitration as to Plaintiff's employment discrimination claim. DN 10. Second, Aetna moves to dismiss Plaintiff's state-law claim for breach of contract and to strike Plaintiff's demand for jury trial pursuant to ERISA. DN 12. Plaintiff filed a single response (DN 14) to the two motions, to which Aetna replied (DN 16). This matter is ripe for review.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Lavonne White filed the instant action in state court asserting two claims: (1) breach of contract related to the denial of long-term disability benefits and (2) employment discrimination under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. DN 1-2. Aetna removed the action to this Court on the grounds that Plaintiff's claims against Aetna invoke this Court's federal question jurisdiction under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. DN 1.

         A. The Arbitration Agreement

         Plaintiff was employed by Aetna[1] as a fulltime supervisor in clinical health services. DN 1-2, at ¶ 11. As a condition of her employment, Plaintiff was required to agree to use Aetna's Arbitration Program for employment related disputes. Plaintiff's offer letter stated, in part, as follows:

Arbitration Agreement: This offer and your acceptance are contingent upon your agreement to use the Company's mandatory/binding arbitration program rather than the courts to resolve employment-related legal disputes. In arbitration, an arbitrator instead of a judge or jury resolves the dispute, and the decision of the arbitrator is final and binding.

         DN 10-2, at 4. Enclosed with Plaintiff's offer letter was a copy of the “Description of Aetna's Employment Dispute Arbitration Program, ” setting forth the terms of the arbitration program, and “Aetna's Employment Dispute Arbitration Program - Q&As.” Id. at 6-11. The terms of the Arbitration Program provide:

Except as otherwise specified, all employment-related legal disputes between employees and the Company will be submitted to and resolved by binding arbitration, and neither the employee nor the company will file or participate as an individual party or member of a class in a lawsuit in any court against the other with respect to such matters.

Id. at 6. The terms provide that the Arbitration Program “does not apply to workers' compensation claims, unemployment compensation claims, and claims under [ERISA].” Id. at 7.

         B. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Through her employment, Plaintiff participated in a Long-Term Disability Benefits Plan administered by Aetna (the “Plan”). Id. at ¶¶ 6, 9. Plaintiff alleges that her job became increasingly stressful as a result of harassment by her supervisor(s) that she believes was based on racial discrimination. Id. at ¶ 13. Plaintiff began experiencing severe depression, anxiety, headaches, difficulty concentrating and speaking, memory problems, and weakness in her limbs. Id. at ¶ 14. Plaintiff was diagnosed with Functional Movement Disorder and, later, breast cancer. Id. at ¶¶ 25, 29. Plaintiff was unable to work and received short-term disability benefits which were terminated on August 7, 2016. Id. at ¶¶ 33, 34. Ultimately, Aetna denied Plaintiff Long-Term Disability benefits “on the basis that she suffered from pre-existing conditions.” Id. at ¶ 34. Plaintiff appealed the denial, but the denial was affirmed on the grounds that “she suffered from pre-existing conditions and the Functional Neurologic Disorder, though not pre-existing, was not disabling.”

         Aetna moves to compel arbitration as to the employment discrimination claim and dismiss Plaintiff's breach of contract claim as preempted by ERISA. Aetna requests that Plaintiff's employment discrimination claim be dismissed, or alternatively, stayed. The Court addresses the arbitration issue first.

         III. ...


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