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Kuznesoff v. The Finish Line, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 3, 2015

BRIAN KUZNESOFF, Plaintiff,
v.
THE FINISH LINE, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

A. Richard Caputo, United States District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Brian Kuznesoff’s Petition to Open (Doc. 6), in which he seeks to reinstate his Complaint (Doc. 1) filed in this court and later terminated by a Praecipe to Discontinue (Doc. 5). Also before the Court is Defendant the Finish Line’s Response to the Petition to Open and Cross-Petition to Confirm Arbitration Award (Doc. 9). Because the Arbitrator had a rational basis for her determination that the plaintiff’s claim was time-barred, Plaintiff’s Petition to Open will be denied, and Defendant’s petition to confirm the arbitrator’s award will be granted.

I. Background

This petition arises out of events that occurred while Plaintiff Brian Kuznesoff was employed by Defendant the Finish Line, Inc. (“Finish Line”) at its retail store in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, and then in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, ¶ 4.)

Plaintiff was hired as an assistant manager for the Stroudsburg store in November, 2011. (Id.) He was transferred to the Scranton location on March 18, 2012. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that throughout his employment, he was subject to derogatory comments based on his religion, and ultimately suffered a constructive discharge. (Doc. 1, ¶ 6.) Plaintiff’s employment with Defendant ended on or about March 28, 2012. (Doc. 6, ¶ 3.)

Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in accordance with Title VII’s administrative exhaustion requirement. The EEOC issued a Right to Sue letter on May 31, 2013. (Doc. 6, ¶ 4.) This letter noted that any lawsuit “must be filed WITHIN 90 DAYS from your receipt of this Notice, otherwise, your right to sue based on the charge will be lost.” (Doc. 2, Ex. A (capitals in original).) On August 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania (Doc. 1). His complaint contained two (2) counts: discrimination in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and defamation. (Id.)

On August 21, 2013, Defendant’s in-house counsel sent an email to Plaintiff’s attorney attaching Finish Line’s “Employee Dispute Resolution Plan, ” (“EDRP”) which required that employees bring claims against Finish Line through arbitration, and requesting that Plaintiff discontinue the complaint and re-file in arbitration. (Doc. 9-5, Ex. E, 4.) On September 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed a “Praecipe to Discontinue, ” (Doc. 6) requesting that this matter be discontinued and ended without prejudice, and the action was terminated.

On September 24, 2013, Plaintiff’s attorney sent the Finish Line Legal Department a letter informing it that he had withdrawn the federal court litigation in the matter “based on the arbitration agreement in Mr. Kuznesoff’s application for employment.” (Doc. 9-3, Ex. C, 11.) Plaintiff’s attorney wrote: “I ask that you accept this letter as a formal demand for arbitration of his claims, ” and requested that the letter be forwarded to Deputy General Counsel to move the matter forward in arbitration. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that he received no response, and his attorney sent two (2) follow-up letters on October 15 and November 7. (Id. at 12-13.)

On November 18, 2013, Finish Line’s outside counsel sent Plaintiff’s counsel a letter stating that they had received no notice that Plaintiff had initiated arbitration with the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) as required by the EDRP. (Doc. 9-4, Ex. D, 19.) This letter noted that “it is our position that Mr. Kuznesoff is now time barred from raising claims against our client in arbitration or any other forum.” (Id.) The EDRP states that “A party must initiate proceedings by filing a written notice (“Demand”) of an intention to Arbitrate at any regional office of the AAA.” (Doc. 9-2, Ex. B, 31.) The EDRP discusses the statute of limitations in the same section: “A party must initiate any Arbitration proceeding under this Plan within the lesser of the applicable time period established by the governing statute of limitations or one year.” (Id.) The arbitrator found that the governing statute of limitations was ninety (90) days, as set out in the EEOC “Right to Sue” letter.

On November 20, 2013, Plaintiff initiated a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association (Doc. 9-1, Ex. A.) In response, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, based on the statute of limitations, and also arguing that Plaintiff failed to state a claim with respect to his defamation claim. Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition, and Defendant filed a reply brief in support of its motion. (Doc. 9-5, Ex. E.) On April 14, 2014, the arbitrator issued a decision granting the motion to dismiss. (Id.)

On May 14, Plaintiff filed a “Petition to Open” his original complaint in this court. (Doc. 6.) On June 17, Defendant filed a Response to the Petition to Open and a Cross-Petition to Confirm Arbitration Award. (Doc. 9.) Plaintiff’s Petition to Open will be construed as a petition to vacate the arbitrator’s decision.

II. Legal Standard

“The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA or Act), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., provides for expedited judicial review to confirm, vacate, or modify arbitration awards.” Hall St. Assocs., L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, 578 (2008). Under the FAA, a federal district judge may vacate an arbitration award where: (1) the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means; (2) there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrator; (3) the arbitrator was guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing, upon sufficient cause shown, 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) the arbitrator exceeded its powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter was not made. Sherrock Bhd., Inc. v. DaimlerChrysler Motors Co. LLC, 465 F.Supp.2d 384 (M.D. Pa. 2006) aff'd sub nom. Sherrock Bros. v. DaimlerChrysler Motors Co., LLC, 260 F.App'x 497 (3d Cir. 2008), citing 9 U.S.C. § 10(a). In addition, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals permits vacatur “in exceptional cases . . . [including] manifest disregard of the law.” Rite Aid N.J., Inc. v. United Food Comm’l Workers Union, Local 1360, 449 F.App'x 126, 128 (3d Cir. 2011).

“[M]anifest disregard of the law” means “more than error or misunderstanding with respect to the law.” Jeffrey M. Brown Assocs., 195 F.Supp.2d at 684; Tanoma Mining Co. v. Local Union No. 1269, United Mine Workers of Am., 896 F.2d 745, 749 (3d Cir. 1990) (“an award may not be vacated merely because the arbitrator made an error of law”). “‘[M]anifest disregard of the law’ encompasses situations in which it is evident from the record that the arbitrator recognized the applicable law, yet chose to ignore it.” Jeffrey M. Brown Assocs., 195 F.Supp.2d at 684. Accordingly, so long as the arbitration award ...

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