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Owens v. L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

September 12, 2014

JAMES A. OWENS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
L-3 COMMUNICATIONS VERTEX AEROSPACE, LLC, Defendant.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION

LOUIS GUIROLA, Jr., Chief District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT is the [19] Motion to Compel Arbitration filed by Defendant L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace, LLC (hereinafter "L-3"). Plaintiff James Owens has responded in opposition to the Motion, and L-3 has filed a reply. Having reviewed the pleadings and the relevant law, it is the opinion of the Court that this Title VII case should not be referred to arbitration. Accordingly, the Motion to Compel Arbitration is denied.

BACKGROUND

This lawsuit arises out of Plaintiff Owens's employment with Defendant L-3. Owens worked for L-3's operations in Kuwait during the years 2006 through 2010, until he was terminated. The Complaint alleges that L-3 subjected Owens to a racially hostile work environment, and to retaliation based on his race, in violation of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Compl. 4-12 (¶¶19-52), ECF No. 1).

Owens was terminated from his employment with L-3 in October 2010. The grounds for his termination, according to L-3, were that Owens had driven a company vehicle off of the base without authorization several months earlier. L-3 pointed to the fact that a parking ticket had been issued to the company vehicle at a location some thirty-five miles away from the work site on July 6, 2010. Owens's Complaint states that L-3 had questioned him about the parking ticket in July, and he had denied that the vehicle had left the base, and claimed no knowledge of the ticket. (Compl. 5-6 (¶¶25-26)).

Owens sought a review of his termination pursuant to L-3's internal procedures. L-3 had an Alternative Dispute Resolution Program ("ADR Program"), under which employees were to resolve "covered complaints, disputes, and claims" through a three-step process. (ADR Program 6 (¶7), Def. Ex. 1, ECF No 20-1). That three-step process included "a Management Review Panel, Mediation, and if necessary... Final and Binding Arbitration." ( Id. ) A Management Review Panel conducted a hearing in March 2011, and issued a determination in favor of Owens, which ordered that he be reinstated to "his former position." (Decision & Order, Compl. Ex. 17, ECF No. 1-17).

Following the Management Review Panel's decision in May 2011, L-3 communicated with Owens about his reinstatement. According to the Complaint, instead of reinstating Owens to his former position, L-3 offered Owens a different job in a different country.[1] Owens alleges that he offered to take a lower-paying position so he could remain in Kuwait where his family was located, but L-3 did not permit him to do so. (Compl. 8 (¶36); Owens and Zody e-mails, Compl. Exs. 19, 20, ECF Nos. 19, 20).

The details are not completely clear from the Complaint, but it appears that the parties continued to dispute the terms of Owens's reinstatement for some period of time.[2] On May 14, 2011, Owens filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging discrimination based on race and retaliation. (Compl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 1-1). Owens asserted in the EEOC charge that he believed he was discharged because of his race (Black), and that he was retaliated against in violation of Title VII. The charge notes that similarly-situated White employees were treated differently than Owens. ( Id. ) Owens's EEOC charge remained pending until August 2012, when the EEOC issued a dismissal and "right to sue" letter to Owens. (Compl. Ex. 2, ECF No. 1-2).

In the meantime, while his EEOC charge was still pending, Owens submitted a Demand for Arbitration to the American Arbitration Association. In his Demand, filed October 17, 2011, Owens alleged claims of breach of contract, tortious breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, and tortious interference with contract and business relations. (Def. Ex. 2, 3-10, ECF No. 23). The Demand also sought punitive damages. The claims proceeded to arbitration, and the arbitrator entered a Final Award in favor of Owens on August 20, 2012. (Def. Ex. 3, ECF No. 24). The arbitrator awarded damages to Owens for breach of contract and tortious breach of contract, as well as punitive damages. ( Id. )

Approximately one week after the arbitrator entered the Final Award, on August 28, 2012, the EEOC issued its Dismissal and Notice of Rights to Owens. Owens timely exercised his right to file a lawsuit against L-3 under Title VII, and filed his Complaint in this action on November 15, 2012.

DISCUSSION

L-3 seeks to compel this matter to arbitration on two grounds: (i) that Owens is seeking to litigate Title VII claims involving the same employment actions that were previously adjudicated by the arbitrator, and he should be estopped from litigating parallel claims outside of arbitration; and (ii) that the confidentiality requirements of the ADR Program, and the arbitrator's Final Award, prohibit L-3 from disclosing the remedies Owens obtained in arbitration. (Mem. in Support of Mot. to Compel Arbitration, ECF No. 20). It argues that, because the relief Owens obtained through arbitration is confidential, the only way to resolve the issue of whether the relief he seeks in this Title VII lawsuit has already been adjudicated by the arbitrator is to return the matter to arbitration, and compel Owens to arbitrate the Title VII claims. (Def. Mem. 2, ECF No. 20).

In response, Owens argues that he did not agree to arbitrate his Title VII claims and was not required to do so under the ADR Program. He also contends that the confidentiality requirement of L-3's ADR Program does not mandate that these proceedings be sent to arbitration.

For the reasons stated below the Court finds that neither of L-3's arguments in support of its Motion are sufficient to establish that Owens must be compelled to ...


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