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Court of Appeals of Georgia
June 28, 2021, Decided
[*272] [**146] Rickman, Presiding Judge.
Omnitech Institute, Inc., and its president, Charleton Lester (collectively “Omnitech”), seek interlocutory review of the trial court's order denying their motion to compel the arbitration of Jasmine [*273] Norwood's employment discrimination claims. Omnitech contends that the trial court erred by accepting Norwood's argument that enforcement of the arbitration provision would prohibit her from effectively vindicating her claims because she could not afford the arbitration costs. Because the issue of arbitration costs is not ripe at this stage of the proceedings, we reverse.
] On appeal from a denial of a motion to compel arbitration, we “review[ ] the record de novo to determine whether the trial court's denial of the motion to compel arbitration is correct as a matter of law. However, we defer to the trial court's findings of fact upon which its denial was based unless those findings are clearly erroneous.” (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Schinazi v. Eden, 351 Ga. App. 151, 156 (830 SE2d 531) (2019).
So viewed, Omnitech hired Norwood in April 2019 to work as a substitute teacher. Her employment contract contained [***2] an arbitration clause stating that any claim arising out of her employment would be settled by binding arbitration before a panel of three arbitrators in accordance with the commercial arbitration rules of the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”).
Approximately five months after she had been hired, Norwood sued Omnitech. In her complaint, Norwood alleged that Lester had made multiple unwanted sexual advances toward her, including grabbing and rubbing against her, and that when she complained to her supervisor, she was told that the only way to avoid interacting with Lester was to quit, which she ultimately did. Norwood‘s complaint asserted state law tort claims and federal Title VII sexual harassment and retaliation claims. In response, Omnitech filed a motion to compel arbitration and dismiss the complaint. Norwood opposed the motion, acknowledging that she had agreed to the arbitration clause and that it covered her claims, but asserting that it was nonetheless unenforceable. Specifically, Norwood argued that she could not effectively vindicate her rights through arbitration because she could not afford the arbitration fees.
The trial court denied Omnitech's motion to compel arbitration, [***3] finding that “enforcing the [arbitration] agreement will preclude [Norwood's] effective vindication of her federal statutory rights.”
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360 Ga. App. 272 *; 861 S.E.2d 145 **; 2021 Ga. App. LEXIS 332 ***; 2021 WL 2643909
OMNITECH INSTITUTE, INC. et al. v. NORWOOD.
Subsequent History: Cert. applied for.
Prior History: Arbitration. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Millender.
Disposition: Judgment reversed.
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Business & Corporate Compliance, Pretrial Matters, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Judicial Review, Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, Clearly Erroneous Review, De Novo Review, Validity of ADR Methods, Arbitration, Federal Arbitration Act, Orders to Compel Arbitration, Arbitrability, Labor & Employment Law, Discrimination, Actionable Discrimination, Conditions & Terms, Arbitration Provisions, Enforcement, Arbitration Agreements