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Green v. Ameritech Corp.

Issue Discussed: Functus Officio

Submitted by Linsey M. Routledge, Kyley Knoerzer

Date Promulgated: January 6, 2000

 

Green v. Ameritech Corp., 200 F.3d 967 (2000)

Case Number: 98-2176

Filed: 10/27/1998

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

Plaintiff-appellee Daniel Green brought age and race discrimination claims against his former employer, Ameritech Services, Inc., and its parent corporation, Ameritech Corp. (collectively, “Ameritech”).  The parties’ arbitration agreement provided that “[t]he arbitrator’s award shall be accompanied by an opinion which explains the arbitrator’s decision with respect to each theory advanced by each Plaintiff . . . .”  (emphasis added).  The arbitrator selected by the parties rendered a six-page opinion in favor of Ameritech.  His opinion set forth the plaintiff’s claims of age discrimination, race discrimination, and retaliation, and stated that the plaintiff had not met his burden of proof as to each claim.

Plaintiff sought to vacate the award on several grounds, including that the arbitrator breached the arbitration agreement by not explaining his decision with respect to each theory advanced by plaintiff.  The district court agreed that the arbitrator’s opinion did not sufficiently explain his decision as called for under the parties’ arbitration agreement and vacated the award and remanded the matter to a new arbitrator to be selected by the parties.  Ameritech appealed from the district court’s order after it denied Ameritech’s motion for reconsideration.

Whether an arbitrator has exceeded his authority is a question of law that the appellate court will review de novo.  In doing so, the Court of Appeals considered the district court’s interpretation of the meaning of “explain,” as it appeared in the parties’ arbitration agreement. Because “explain” is not a standard legal term – unlike, for example, “findings of fact” and “conclusions of law,” which are familiar terms in legal parlance with reasonably plain meanings – the Court closely examined the arbitrator’s opinion to determine if he explained his decision so as to meet the requirements of the agreement.

The Court found that the opinion, though brief and conclusory, did “explain” why Ameritech prevailed on each of the plaintiff’s theories.  The Court considered it significant that the opinion provided a separate discussion regarding each of the plaintiff’s theories and explained as to each one that, considering the evidence, the reason plaintiff was denied recovery was plaintiff’s failure to meet his burden of proof that the decision to terminate his employment constituted discrimination.

The Court further noted that had the arbitrator not “explained” his decision, the proper remedy would have been to remand the matter to the arbitrator to clarify his decision.

 

 

[1] Linsey M. Routledge is Senior Counsel and Kyley Knoerzer is an associate at Clyde & Co US LLP.