Ninth Circuit Confirms Arbitration Award Finding FAA Disallows Judicial Review of Whether Arbitrator’s Factual Findings “Are Supported by the Evidence in the Record”

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Plaintiff Annette Serna appealed from an order of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Serna had brought wrongful termination and related claims against Northrop, including under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County. Northrop removed the matter to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and then moved to compel arbitration pursuant to Northrop’s 2010 arbitration policy, which explicitly covered “future” claims between Serna and Northrop. The district court compelled arbitration and stayed the action pending arbitration. The arbitrator dismissed Serna’s claims under FEHA, concluding that Serna was not a qualified individual under the statute. Thereafter, the district court denied Serna’s motion to vacate the arbitrator’s decision. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court did not err when it compelled arbitration given that the 2010 policy expressly stated that “any claim, controversy, or dispute, past, present, or future” between Serna and Northrop would be subject to binding arbitration. The court rejected Serna’s argument that she was no longer bound by the 2010 policy because it was “superseded” by an updated policy in 2013, finding that nothing in the 2010 policy stated that a revised policy would nullify Serna’s agreement in 2010 to arbitrate all claims, including future claims arising out of her employment with Northrop. The Ninth Circuit also found that the district court did not err when it denied Serna’s request to vacate the arbitrator’s decision on the basis that Serna was not a qualified individual under FEHA, holding that the arbitrator’s factual findings on that issue are beyond the scope of judicial review allowed by the FAA. Finally, the court found that the arbitrator did not exhibit a “manifest disregard of the law,” concluding that the arbitrator did in fact identify the relevant legal standards and applied them, and noted that “because he did so, we may not second-guess his interpretation or application of the law.”

Serna v. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., No. 21-55238 (9th Cir. July 12, 2022).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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