Barrows v. Brinker Restaurant Corporation, No. 21-606 (2d Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff, sued her former employer, alleging a variety of employment law violations. Defendant moved to dismiss her suit and to compel arbitration. Defendant supported the motion by presenting an arbitration agreement bearing what appeared to be the worker’s electronic signature. In a sworn declaration, however, the worker categorically and specifically denied that the signature was hers. She also pointed to other circumstantial evidence as to its inauthenticity. The district court concluded that the worker’s evidence was insufficient to create a triable issue of fact, and so granted the restaurant’s motion.
The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s grant of Defendant’s motion to dismiss and to compel arbitration. The court held that the district court erred when it disregarded Plaintiff’s sworn declaration as “nothing more than a de facto extension of [her] pleadings.”
The court explained that it resolves agreement-formation questions by applying the law of the state at issue. Here, under New York law, when moving to compel arbitration, “[t]he party seeking . . . arbitration bears an initial burden of demonstrating that an agreement to arbitrate was made.” As such, the burden shifted to Plaintiff, who needed to counter with at least “some evidence . . . to substantiate [her] denial” that an agreement had been made. Here, Plaintiff’s detailed accounting, under oath, is “some evidence” that she did not agree to arbitration. Thus, there is a triable issue of fact as to whether she ever received, or became aware of, Defendant’s arbitration agreements, regardless of whether she ultimately signed them.