Richardson v. Citigroup Inc.
ORDER Plaintiffs Motion to Vacate / Set Aside Arbitration Award ECF No. 34 is DENIED; Defendants Motion to Confirm Arbitration Award and for Attorneys Fees ECF No. 33 is GRANTED in so far as it seeks confirmation of the Award but DENIED as to attorneys fees and costs; The Arbitration Award ECF No. [33-1] is CONFIRMED; and The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of Defendant. The parties shall bear their own costs, by Judge William J. Martinez on 8/8/2014.(evana, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Judge William J. Martínez
Civil Action No. 12-cv-0485-WJM-KMT
ORDER CONFIRMING ARBITRATION AWARD
On February 24, 2012, Plaintiff Jacob Richardson brought this action pro se
against Defendant Citigroup, Inc, his former employer, alleging that he was unlawfully
discriminated against during his employment. (ECF No. 1.) Because Plaintiff’s
employment contract contained an arbitration clause, Defendant moved to compel
arbitration of Plaintiff’s claims. (ECF No. 18.) The Court granted Defendant’s motion,
and administratively closed this action, stating that “[e]ither party may move to reopen
this case at the conclusion of Arbitration for good cause shown.” (ECF No. 27.)
In May 2013, the Arbitrator held a three-day hearing on Plaintiff’s claims. (ECF
No. 31-1.) The Arbitrator issued her decision on June 18, 2013, finding that Plaintiff
had failed to show that Defendant discriminated or retaliated against him (the “Award”).
(ECF No. 31-1.) Plaintiff then sought to reopen this case, which the Court granted.
(ECF No. 32.)
Before the Court are the following motions: (1) Plaintiff’s Motion to Vacate / Set
Aside Arbitration Award (ECF No. 34); and (2) Defendant’s Motion to Confirm
Arbitration Award and for Attorney’s Fees (ECF No. 33). For the reasons set forth
below, Plaintiff’s Motion is denied and Defendant’s Motion is granted in part and denied
I. LEGAL STANDARD
The standard of review of arbitral awards is among the narrowest in the law.
See Litvak Packing Co. v. United Food & Commercial Workers, Local Union No. 7, 886
F.2d 275, 276 (10th Cir. 1989); see also Int’l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, Local Union No.
611, AFL-CIO v. Pub. Serv. Co. of N.M., 980 F.2d 616, 618 (10th Cir. 1992). The
arbitrator’s decision will be enforced if it draws its essence from the parties’ agreements
and is not merely the arbitrator’s own brand of industrial justice. United Steelworkers of
Am. v. Enter. Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 597 (1960). Courts may not reconsider
the merits of an award even where the award may rest on errors of fact or
misinterpretations of the parties’ agreement. United Paperworkers Int’l Union, AFL-CIO
v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 36 (1987); Cal-Circuit ABCO, Inc. v. Solbourne Computer,
Inc., 848 F. Supp. 1506, 1510 (D. Colo. 1994). As a result, “as long as the arbitrator is
even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his
authority, that a court is convinced he committed serious error does not suffice to
overturn his decision.” Misco, 484 U.S. at 38.
The party seeking to vacate an arbitration award bears the burden to show that
one of the limited grounds for setting aside the award is met. Youngs v. Am. Nutrition,
Inc., 537 F.3d 1135, 1141 (10th Cir. 2008) (holding that it is “the burden of the [party
seeking to have the award vacated] to provide the court with the evidence to support
[his] arguments for vacating the arbitrator’s award”) (citation omitted). As such, the
Court will primarily focus on Plaintiff’s arguments regarding vacatur of the arbitration
Plaintiff’s main argument in his Motion is that the Court should set aside the
arbitration award so that he can exercise his Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.
(ECF No. 34 at 1.) Plaintiff contends that he complied in good faith with the Court’s
order that he participate in arbitration and, having done so, he is now entitled to
prosecute his claims in this Court. (Id.) Unfortunately, Plaintiff’s argument completely
misunderstands the nature of binding arbitration. By signing the arbitration policy in his
Employee Handbook, Plaintiff agreed to make “arbitration the required and exclusive
forum for the resolution of all employment disputes.” (ECF No. 18-1 at 5 (emphasis
added).) The right to trial by jury is waivable, and Plaintiff waived such right when he
signed the arbitration policy. See R.J. Griffin & Co. v. Beach Club II Homeowners
Ass’n, 384 F.3d 157, 164 (4th Cir. 2004) (“A party may, of course, waive the jury trial
right by signing an agreement to arbitrate.”). As such, Plaintiff may no longer exercise
the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury in this case.
Plaintiff next contends that the Court should set aside the arbitration award
because the Arbitrator was biased. (ECF No. 34 at 1.) However, for an arbitration
award to be set aside, “the evidence of bias or interest of an arbitrator must be direct,
definite and capable of demonstration rather than remote, uncertain, or speculative.”
Ormsbee Dev. Co. v. Grace, 668 F.2d 1140, 1147 (10th Cir. 1982). Plaintiff’s argument
regarding bias falls well short of meeting this standard. Instead of producing evidence
of actual, direct bias, Plaintiff argues that the Arbitrator was biased because she made
discovery rulings in favor of Defendant and credited Defendant’s witnesses over
Plaintiff’s witnesses. Such rulings on the part of the Arbitrator fall far short of
establishing any type of actual bias on her part. Thus, the Court concludes that Plaintiff
has failed to show that the Arbitrator’s bias was so significant that the Award should be
Plaintiff contends that the Arbitrator’s evidentiary rulings, particularly her failure
to draw an adverse inference as a result of spoliation of evidence, is grounds to vacate
the arbitration award. (ECF No. 34 at 2-3.) But even if the Court agreed with Plaintiff
regarding the Arbitrator’s evidentiary rulings, it could not vacate the Award on this basis.
The grounds for setting aside an arbitration award are very narrow, and disagreement
with evidentiary rulings is not one of them. See 9 U.S.C. § 10(a) (listing grounds on
which a court may vacate an arbitration award). A court can vacate an arbitration
award if the hearing was fundamentally unfair and deprived a participant of due
process, see Denver & Rio Grande W. R.R. Co. v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 119 F.3d 847,
849 (10th Cir. 1997), but the matters complained of by the Plaintiff in this case fall far
short of that standard.
In summary, Plaintiff has failed to identify any grounds which would permit the
Court to vacate the Award in this case. As it was his burden to do so, the Court finds
that the Award must be confirmed. As such, Plaintiff’s Motion to Vacate is denied and
Defendant’s Motion to Confirm is granted in so far as it seeks confirmation of the Award.
Defendant’s Motion to Confirm also seeks the award of attorney’s fees and costs
incurred in connection with the filing of the confirmation motion. (ECF No. 33 at 1.)
Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s reopening of this case and his attempt to set aside the
Award “was wholly without merit” and that it is entitled to fees and costs as a sanction.
(Id. at 4.) While the Court agrees that Plaintiff has failed to establish any grounds for
vacating the Award, the Court does not find that attorney’s fees and costs are
appropriate in this case. Rather, the Court believes that Plaintiff fundamentally
misunderstood the nature of a binding arbitration agreement, and genuinely believed
that he would be able to reinitiate this action and pursue it to a jury trial, even after the
arbitration process. Given Plaintiff’s pro se status and lack of legal training, the Court
does not find this conduct sanctionable. As such, Defendant’s request for attorney’s
fees and costs is denied.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court ORDERS as follows:
Plaintiff’s Motion to Vacate / Set Aside Arbitration Award (ECF No. 34) is
Defendant’s Motion to Confirm Arbitration Award and for Attorney’s Fees (ECF
No. 33) is GRANTED in so far as it seeks confirmation of the Award but DENIED
as to attorneys’ fees and costs;
The Arbitration Award (ECF No. 33-1) is CONFIRMED; and
The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of Defendant. The parties shall bear
their own costs.
Dated this 8th day of August, 2014.
BY THE COURT:
William J. Martínez
United States District Judge
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