United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG United States District Judge.
Lisa White is an esthetician who believes that her former
employer, Defendant Four Seasons Hotel and Resorts,
discriminated against her on the basis of her race and
pregnancy. After White filed suit and Four Seasons
successfully moved to compel arbitration, an Arbitrator
selected by the parties held an eleven-day hearing and
decided in favor of Defendant. White now moves to vacate the
arbitration award pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, 9
U.S.C. § 10(a)(3), arguing that the Arbitrator
improperly allowed Four Seasons both to withhold relevant
information and to provide incomplete and inaccurate
evidence. As a result, Plaintiff contends that the hearing
was rendered fundamentally unfair to her. Not surprisingly,
Defendant disagrees and asks the Court to confirm the award.
Hotel's position carries the day, as the Court concludes
that the Arbitrator's discovery-related decisions did not
amount to misconduct such that White was denied a
fundamentally fair hearing. Because she cannot meet the very
demanding standard for vacatur, the Court will deny her
Motion to Vacate the Arbitration Award and grant
Defendant's Motion to Confirm the Award.
White is a black woman who worked as an esthetician in the
spa at the Four Seasons Hotel here in Washington from
September 2007 to August 2012. See ECF No. 42-1,
Exh. K (Award) at 2. Initially hired for part-time work, she
became a full-time employee in July 2008. Id. In
August 2012, she filed a charge of discrimination against
Four Seasons with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
and the D.C. Office of Human Rights. Id. at 3; Pl.
Mot. at 4. White alleged that the Hotel had discriminated
against her on the basis of race and pregnancy by depriving
her of client bookings and opportunities for promotion,
subjecting her to a hostile work environment, and retaliating
against her for voicing her concerns. See Award at
1; Pl. Mot. at 3. She accordingly asserted violations of
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §
2000e, et seq., Section 1977 of the Civil Rights Act
of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the D.C. Human Rights Act
of 1977, D.C. Code § 2-14. See Award at 1.
the EEOC issued White a Notice of Right to Sue, she brought
this action in the Superior Court for the District of
Columbia in August 2013. See ECF No. 1-1. Four
Seasons then removed the case to federal court and moved to
compel arbitration. See ECF Nos. 1, 5. This Court
granted the motion in November 2013 and stayed the case
pending arbitration, which lasted for almost three years.
White v. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, 999
F.Supp.2d 250 (D.D.C. 2013).
provided for in White's employment contract, Four Seasons
began the process by filing a request for arbitration with
the American Arbitration Association. See Def. Mot.
at 2-3. The parties received names of possible arbitrators
and selected Patricia Horan Latham, an individual with more
than 30 years of experience as an arbitrator/mediator and
more than 40 years of experience as an attorney.
Id.; ECF No. 43-1 (Résumé of Patricia
Horan Latham) at 1.
selecting the Arbitrator, the parties engaged in written
discovery, document production, and the taking of
depositions. This was no simple task. In fact, they produced
10, 912 pages of documents, Four Seasons responded to 67
Interrogatories and took two depositions, and White took
eleven depositions. See Def. Mot. at 3. Among those
individuals deposed were: Brian Simon, White's manager at
the Spa; Julia Boeminghaus, who succeeded White as Spa
manager; Laura Hatala, a white esthetician at the Spa;
Christian Clerc, President of Hotel Operations for Europe,
the Middle East, and Africa; Carolina Baldi, Spa Supervisor;
Stacey Coppel, Human Resources Director; Craig Statham,
Regional Director of Information Technology; and Ella
Stimpson, the Spa's expert witness on spa operations.
See ECF No. 42-1, Exhs. A, B, D, F, L, P, W, KK.
arbitration hearing took place over the course of eleven
non-consecutive days, beginning on February 29 and ending on
August 18, 2016. See ECF No. 42-1, Exh. AA (Tr.
Arbitration Hearing, Day 1, Feb. 29, 2016); id.,
Exh. II (Tr. Arbitration Hearing, Aug. 18, 2016).
“Eleven witnesses testified during the hearing,
resulting in a record consisting of 3, 035 pages of testimony
and 1, 166 pages of exhibits.” Def. Mot. at 1. The
parties then submitted post-hearing briefs. See ECF
No. 42-1, Exhs. C, GG. On October 19, 2016, the Arbitrator
issued an award in favor of Defendant. See Award.
After discussing some of White's claims - including that
she was unfairly denied appointments and promotion
opportunities, harassed by her co-workers and supervisors,
and subjected to surveillance because of her complaints - and
finding them to be without sufficient support, the Arbitrator
concluded that Four Seasons had not engaged in discrimination
and denied all of her claims. Id. at 3-9.
then timely filed the instant Motion, seeking to vacate the
award on the ground that the Arbitrator “refus[ed] to
hear evidence pertinent and material to the
controversy.” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(3). This purported
misconduct relates only to her disparate-treatment claim; she
asserts no arguments as to the remainder of her unsuccessful
counts. Defendant, in turn, filed an Opposition and
Cross-Motion to Confirm the Award. Those Motions are now
enacting the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1
et seq., Congress “replace[d] judicial
indisposition to arbitration with a ‘national policy
favoring [it] and plac[ing] arbitration agreements on equal
footing with all other contracts.” Hall St.
Assocs., L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, 578
(2008). The FAA “establish[es] an alternative to the
complications of litigation, ” Revere Copper &
Brass Inc. v. Overseas Private Inv. Corp., 628 F.2d 81,
83 (D.C. Cir. 1980), and provides for “expedited
judicial review to confirm, vacate, or modify arbitration
awards.” Hall St. Assocs., 552 U.S. at 578.
D.C. Circuit has repeatedly emphasized, “[J]udicial
review of arbitral awards is extremely limited.”
Kanuth v. Prescott, Ball & Turben, Inc., 949
F.2d 1175, 1178 (D.C. Cir. 1991). “Courts thus do not
sit to hear claims of factual or legal error by an arbitrator
as an appellate court does in reviewing decisions of lower
courts.” Id. (quoting United Paperworkers
Int'l Union v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38 (1987));
see also Kurke v. Oscar Gruss & Son, Inc., 454
F.3d 350, 354 (D.C. Cir. 2006). Consequently, a party seeking
to challenge an arbitrator's award under any of the
FAA's four limited grounds, see 9 U.S.C. §
10(a), “must clear a high hurdle.”
Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int'l Corp.,
559 U.S. 662, 671 (2010). Even a serious legal or factual
error on the part of the arbitrator will not, standing alone,
justify vacatur of an award. Id.
Plaintiff invokes 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(3), which authorizes
vacatur of an award “where the arbitrator[ was] guilty
of misconduct . . . in refusing to hear evidence pertinent
and material to the controversy.” “The scope of
review under this provision is narrow.” Howard
Univ. v. Metro. Campus Police Officer's Union, 512
F.3d 716, 721 (D.C. Cir. 2008). This is because, “in
making evidentiary determinations, ” arbitrators
“need not follow all the niceties observed by the
federal courts.” Id. (quoting Lessin v.
Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 481
F.3d 813, 816 (D.C. Cir. 2007)). In submitting to
arbitration, litigants lose, for example, the right to the
extensive discovery afforded by the courts. See
Shearson/Am. Exp., Inc. v. McMahon, 482 U.S. 220, 259
n.18 (1987). An arbitrator may determine whether or not
certain evidence would prove relevant to her determination.
See Lessin, 481 F.3d at 817. She thus has
substantial leeway to admit any evidence that she finds
useful - even hearsay evidence. See Barker v. Gov't
Emps. Ins. Co., 339 F.Supp. 1064, 1067 (D.D.C. 1972). An
arbitrator may likewise opt to expedite a proceeding by
excluding evidence and testimony that she finds irrelevant or
duplicative. See Lessin, 481 F.3d at 817;
Fairchild & Co. v. Richmond, Fredericksburg &
Potomac Ry. Co., 516 F.Supp. 1305, 1314-15 (D.D.C.