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Crosby v. Sears Holding Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 20, 2018



          Marvin E. Aspen United States District Judge.

         Presently before us is Plaintiff Christopher M. Crosby's pro se motion against to vacate an arbitration award for Defendant Sears Roebuck and Co. (“Sears”) pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 10. (First Am. Mot. (Dkt. No. 41).)[1] For the reasons stated below, we deny Plaintiff's motion.


         Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant on July 22, 2015 alleging Sears, his former employer, discriminated against him based on race, color, and sex beginning in March 2013. (Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 6, 9.)[2] Plaintiff specifically alleges that Defendant terminated his employment as assistant store manager, failed to stop harassment, retaliated against him, failed to investigate his allegations of discrimination, failed adhere to his employment agreement, and failed to follow the company's progressive action policy, all on account of his race and sex. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 17, PageID#: 9-11.) After the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued a Notice of Right to Sue on April 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed his pro se employment discrimination complaint against Defendant pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 and 42 U.S.C § 1981).[3] (Compl. ¶¶ 7-9, PageID#: 8.)

         In response to the complaint, Defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration, which we referred to Magistrate Judge Michael Mason. (Dkt. Nos. 14, 18.) Judge Mason found that Plaintiff entered into a valid arbitration agreement with Defendant, that no genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Plaintiff had submitted the requisite form to Defendant to opt out of the arbitration agreement, that Plaintiff's complaint fell within the scope of the arbitration agreement, and that Plaintiff had refused to proceed to arbitration. (Report and Recommendations (Dkt. No. 28) at 7-11.) Accordingly, Judge Mason recommended that we grant Defendant's motion to compel arbitration. (Id. at 11.) Plaintiff did not object to the Report and Recommendations by the deadline ordered by Judge Mason. We thereafter issued an order adopting the report and recommendations, granting Defendant's motion to compel arbitration, and staying this action pending arbitration. (Dkt. No. 29.)

         On July 21, 2017, former Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys, the parties' arbitrator, granted summary judgment for Defendant and dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims, which included counts of discrimination, harassment, fraud, retaliation, hostile work environment, breach of contract, and slander. (Arbitration Award (Dkt. No. 39) at 10).) The arbitrator determined that Plaintiff did not sustain his burden of showing that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding any of Plaintiff's claims. (Id. at 7-10.) After learning of the arbitration award, we lifted our stay on August 28, 2017.

         On September 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion in this Court to vacate the arbitration award, arguing that the arbitrator was partial and manifestly disregarded the law. (First Am. Mot. ¶ 3.) In response, Defendant filed a brief in opposition to Plaintiff's motion to vacate the award and requesting we dismiss Plaintiff's case with prejudice. (Def.'s Resp. (Dkt. No. 42).)


         The FAA provides limited circumstances where a federal court may vacate an arbitration award.[4] Under the FAA, a federal court may vacate an arbitration award only on one or more of the following grounds: “(1) where the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means; (2) where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrator[] . . .; (3) where the arbitrator[] w[as] guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing . . . or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy; or of any other misbehavior by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced; or (4) where the arbitrator[] exceeded [his or her] powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a). “A party petitioning a federal court to vacate an arbitral award bears the heavy burden of showing that the award falls within a very narrow set of circumstances delineated by statute and case law.” Cremin v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 434 F.Supp.2d 554, 559 (N.D. Ill. 2006) (citing Wallace v. Buttar, 378 F.3d 182, 189 (2d Cir. 2004)); see also Affymax, Inc. v. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharms., Inc., 660 F.3d 281, 284 (7th Cir. 2011) (“This list [of grounds for vacation] is exclusive; neither judges nor contracting parties can expand it.”).

         Even if the court is convinced that an arbitrator committed serious error, this alone does not suffice to overturn the arbitrator's decision. United Paperworkers Int'l Union, AFL-CIO v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38, 108 S.Ct. 364, 371 (1987) A court must grant an arbitration award great deference so long as “the arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority.” Id.; see also Chi. & N.W. Transp. Co. v. United Transp. Union, 905 F.2d 171, 173 (7th Cir. 1990) (“[A] federal court is to determine only whether or not the arbitrator interpreted the agreement, not if the arbitrator's interpretation of the agreement is correct.”).


         In his motion to vacate the arbitration award, Plaintiff argues we should vacate the arbitration award because the arbitrator was partial and manifestly disregarded the law in ruling on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Specifically, Plaintiff contends the arbitrator's award failed to “point out” particular documents in the record that Plaintiff believes created a genuine issue of material fact. (First Am. Mot. at 2.) We find that Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of establishing a valid ground for vacating the arbitrator's decision, and accordingly deny his motion.

         I. Partiality

         Plaintiff first argues we should vacate the arbitration award because the arbitrator was partial to Defendant by failing to consider evidence in the record. (Id. at 2, 5.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Judge Keys acted partially by failing to consider “several key documents” and “material facts” in the arbitration award, including Plaintiff's deposition testimony that Sears confiscated only black managers' keys after a theft; evidence showing Plaintiff's prior refusal to communicate with the store manager, David Jennings, “due to racial differences”;[5] and Sears' policies requiring reasons for an associate's ...

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