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Posts Tagged ‘Employment Arbitration’

First Circuit Court of Appeals Decides Close Case in Favor of Confirming FINRA Arbitration Panel Award: Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v. Fenyk

May 1st, 2015 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Confirmation of Awards, Federal Courts, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, Securities Arbitration, Statute of Limitations, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Comments Off on First Circuit Court of Appeals Decides Close Case in Favor of Confirming FINRA Arbitration Panel Award: Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v. Fenyk

Introduction

Probably most of the Federal Arbitration Act Section 10(a)(4) outcome-review challenges that parties file are disposed of pretty easily because the applicable highly-deferential standard of review forecloses relief as long as the arbitrators were at least arguably interpreting the parties’ agreement, the applicable law or both. The most challenging cases are those falling either on or close to that imaginary, blurry line dividing arguable interpretation from clear disregard of the contract.  CfChicago Typographical Union v. Chicago Sun-Times, 935 F.2d 1501, 1506 (7th Cir. 1991) (“The zanier the award, the less plausible it becomes to ascribe it to a mere error in interpretation rather than to a willful disregard of the contract. This approach can make the line between error and usurpation waver.”).

yay-14640034-digitalIn Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v.  Corp. v. Fenyk, No. 14-1252, slip op. (3rd Cir. Mar. 11, 2015), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit addressed one of those challenging cases. The panel in a FINRA arbitration (the “FINRA Arbitration Panel” or “Panel”) awarded a discharged stock broker $600,000.00 in back pay for wrongful termination, but the district court vacated the arbitration award because it concluded that the FINRA Arbitration Panel did not have the authority to award back pay in the circumstances. On appeal the First Circuit reversed, explaining in clear and cogent terms why the case, while close, was not one warranting Section 10(a)(4) vacatur.

Facts

Mr. Fenyk served as a Raymond James Financial Services (“Raymond James” or “James”) securities broker for seven years. His career there began in New York City, but he worked in Vermont beginning in 2004, managing a small branch office. He had an independent contractor agreement with Raymond James, entitled “Independent Sales Associate Agreement,” which stipulated that Florida law would govern any disputes. He also executed a Business Ethics Policy, which required him to arbitrate disputes “arising out of the independent contractor relationship.”

yay-17336082-digitalIn May 2009 Raymond James, during a routine client-communication review, discovered an e-mail sent to Fenyk’s former domestic partner, which suggested that Fenyk had an alcohol problem.  The e-mail referred to “Fenyk’s ‘slip’ and his ‘need [for] meetings and real sobriety for a dialoug [sic] with you.'” The e-mail also explained that “Fenyk’s ‘new AA friend was very hard on [him] last night.'” Slip op. at 3.

Raymond James terminated its relationship with Fenyk after it learned about Fenyk’s apparent alcohol problem. About  two years later, Fenyk filed suit “in Vermont state court alleging that he had been fired on account of his sexual orientation and his status as a recovering a recovering alcoholic, in violation of Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act (“VFEPA”), Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 495.” Slip op. at 4. Fenyk subsequently agreed to dismiss his complaint and commence a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration, as required by his agreement with Raymond James. Continue Reading »

When Do Cost Provisions in an Arbitration Agreement Effectively Deny a Party a Forum in Which to Vindicate Statutory Rights?

April 6th, 2010 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Employment Arbitration, New York Court of Appeals, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on When Do Cost Provisions in an Arbitration Agreement Effectively Deny a Party a Forum in Which to Vindicate Statutory Rights?

Introduction

Under the federal Federal Arbitration Act statutory claims are generally arbitrable if they fall within the scope of the arbitration agreement, but arbitrator and arbitration-service-provider fees that may impose undue financial burdens on employees or other individuals seeking to vindicate those rights.   Cost provisions in arbitration agreements allocate these fees and costs, and even when the allocation is 50-50, disputes may arise concerning whether they are so burdensome as to effectively deny one of the parties a forum in which to pursue his or her claims.   

In Green Tree Financial Corp v Randolph, 531 U.S. 79 (2000), the United States Supreme Court acknowledged that “the existence of large arbitration costs could preclude a litigant from effectively vindicating her federal statutory rights in the arbitral forum.”  531 U.S. at 90.  And it said that “where, a party seeks to invalidate an arbitration agreement on the ground that arbitration would be prohibitively expensive, that party bears the burden of showing the likelihood of incurring costs that would deter the party from arbitrating the claim.”  531 U.S. at 92.   While the Court did not purport to enunciate the standards courts should apply in evaluating challenges to cost provisions, it held that the “risk” of  “prohibitive costs is too speculative to justify the invalidation of an arbitration agreement.”  531 U.S. at 91. Continue Reading »