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Anderson v. American General Life Insurance

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Sabannah Division.

March 19, 2019

WILLIAM A. ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN GENERAL LIFE INSURANCE d/b/a AIG LIFE AND RETIREMENT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          HON. LISA GODBEY WOOD, JUDGE

         The Court previously dismissed this case finding that it must be arbitrated. Dkt. No. 4-3. Plaintiff timely refiled the complaint. Dkt. No. 1. Subsequently, the Court stayed and administratively closed this case pending resolution of the arbitration. Dkt. No. 10. The final arbitration award has been entered and filed with the Court. Dkt. No. 16-1. Nevertheless, Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a Motion to Vacate Arbitration Award, dkt. no. 22, which is presently before the Court. The Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         After this Court ruled and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed that Plaintiff's claims must be arbitrated, on July 5, 2017, Plaintiff filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"). Dkt. No. 25-1. In the demand, Plaintiff made the following relevant claims: (1) that his former employer, Defendant American General Life Insurance ("AIG") failed to promote him because of Plaintiff's race as an African-American in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (2) that AIG violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by refusing to afford Plaintiff the same right to make and enforce his employment contract as was enjoyed by a similarly situated white male; (3) that AIG illegally retaliated against Plaintiff in violation of Title VII when Plaintiff engaged in protected activity; (4) that the arbitration agreement requiring these claims to be arbitrated was unenforceable because it was breached by AIG; (5) that the arbitration agreement lacked consideration; (6) that the arbitration agreement was not mandatory and thus was unenforceable; (7) and that Plaintiff was entitled to punitive damages.

         An arbitrator, Beverly P. Baker, was assigned to the case, and she entered an Initial Case Management Order. Dkt. No. 22-3. That document states that an "initial telephone management conference call" was held on September 29, 2017, in which the parties, their attorneys, the arbitrator, and a case manager for the AAA participated. Id. at 2. During that telephone call, Plaintiff argued that the arbitration agreement should be voided for reasons (4) - (6) listed above. Id. As a result of this argument, the arbitrator requested briefings on these issues, and she made her ruling on these issues in her Initial Case Management Order. Id. In that Order, the arbitrator rejected these three claims and explained her bases for doing so. Id. As a result, the arbitrator concluded that she had jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining claims. Id.

         After the initial management phone call, Plaintiff created and signed a memorandum recapping some of the discussions that he found troubling. Dkt. No. 22-2. Relevant to this Order, Plaintiff noted that the arbitrator refused to hear evidence on the three claims that were raised. Id. at 2. Thus, Plaintiff was, according to the memorandum, not permitted to present evidence on the three jurisdictional claims that the arbitrator rejected. Id.

         On March 28, 2018, the parties were notified that Arbitrator Baker recused herself from the case. Dkt. No. 25-4. At some point thereafter, a new arbitrator was appointed to the case, Patricia A. Renovitch. Dkt. No. 22-5. Plaintiff resubmitted to Arbitrator Renovitch his three claims arguing that the arbitrator lacked jurisdiction, but Renovitch refused to revisit those issues and stood by the conclusions of Arbitrator Baker as memorialized in the Initial Case Management Order. Id. at 2. The parties were notified of Renovitch's decision on May 11, 2018. Id.

         On early September 2018, a multi-day trial was held on Plaintiff's remaining claims. Dkt. Nos. 22-6, 22-7, 22-8. After the trial, the parties submitted closing argument briefs setting forth their contentions. Dkt. Nos. 22-15, 22-18. On December 5, 2018, Renovitch issued a twenty-seven page Interim Award detailing her findings of fact, conclusions of law, and the ultimate award. Dkt. No. 22-11. The factual findings relevant to this Order are that in 2003 Plaintiff was hired by AIG to be a sales agent. Id. at 5. In early 2012, Plaintiff was still a sales agent and was told by the general manager of his office, Thomas Gallo, that a service manager position would soon become vacant and that Plaintiff should stay and compete for it-at the time, Plaintiff was considering leaving AIG. Id. at 6. When the position became vacant, Gallo created a promotion contest for the service manager ("SM") position. Id. Three of the applicants were black, and one was white, Roy Watson. Id. Watson, the white applicant, was eventually deemed the winner of the contest and was given the position. Id. at 10-11. Arbitrator Renovitch agreed with Plaintiff that the promotion contest discriminated against the black applicants, in favor of the white applicant. Id. at 21. But, Renovitch rejected Plaintiff's two other substantives claims and his punitive damages claim. Id. at 22-27.

         After the interim award was entered, Plaintiff filed a Request for Reconsideration, setting forth many grounds in which he believed Arbitrator Renovitch erred. Dkt. No. 22-9. On January 22, 2019, Renovitch rejected Plaintiff's arguments and entered a Final Award. Dkt. No". 22-19.

         Plaintiff filed this motion to vacate the award under 9 U.S.C. § 10(a) alleging that Arbitrator Baker and Arbitrator Renovitch erred, were biased, and misbehaved in many ways when adjudicating Plaintiff's claims.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Refusal to Hear Evidence Claim

         Plaintiff first argues that the award should be vacated under 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(3) because Arbitrator Baker refused to hear evidence regarding three of Plaintiff's claims that sought to void the arbitration agreement. Baker rejected these claims and held that the arbitration agreement was valid. Dkt. No. 22-3 at 2. Plaintiff also claims that Arbitrator Renovitch declined to revisit Baker's refusal, and thus, Renovitch also refused to hear that same evidence. The claims centered around the contention that the arbitrator lacked jurisdiction; specifically, they were: (1) that Defendant violated an "open door policy" that was part of the arbitration agreement, voiding the agreement and making it unenforceable; (2) that the arbitration agreement lacked consideration; and (3) that the arbitration agreement was "not mandatory and/or enforceable as set forth in the [Employee Dispute Resolution program]," dkt. no. 25-1 at 5. The evidence Plaintiff wished to present but was not permitted to was testimony from witnesses about "upper management[*s] knowledge of the contest manipulations." Dkt. No. 22 at 18. These witnesses "had information concerning what senior management said and did regarding the contest and job positions [Plaintiff] wanted to address by utilizing the open-door policy." Id.

         Under 9 U.S.C. § 10(a) (3) an arbitration award must be vacated "[w]here the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct in refusing . . . to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy." Nevertheless, arbitrators "enjoy wide latitude in conducting an arbitration hearing," and they "are not constrained by formal rules of procedure or evidence." Robbins v. Day/ 954 F.2d 679, 685 (11th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds, First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan,514 U.S. 938, 948 (1995). "An arbitrator need not consider all the evidence the parties seek to introduce but may reject evidence that is cumulative or irrelevant." Scott v. Prudential Sec, Inc., 141 F.3d 1007, 1017 (11th Cir. 1998). "In addition, *[a] federal court may vacate an arbitrator's award only if the arbitrator's refusal to hear pertinent and material evidence prejudices the rights of the parties to the arbitration proceedings.'" Rosensweiq ...


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