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Brittingham v. Comcast, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

July 24, 2019

TIFFINEY BRITTINGHAM Plaintiff,
v.
COMCAST, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on pro se Plaintiff Tiffiney Brittingham's motion to vacate the arbitration award entered in favor of Defendant Comcast, Inc., and Comcast's petition to confirm that arbitration award. (Docs. 41 and 43, respectively). For the following reasons, the court will confirm the arbitration award.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Brittingham brought wrongful termination and sexual harassment claims against her previous employer, Comcast, and her previous supervisor at Comcast, Defendant Ronald Wilson. (See Doc. 1). On August 6, 2018, the court instructed Ms. Brittingham to pursue binding arbitration of her claims as required by her employee agreement with Comcast. (Doc. 27).

         On January 4, 2019, Ms. Brittingham submitted her claims to the American Arbitration Association. (Doc. 32). Ms. Brittingham objected to the first two arbitrators that the AAA appointed because she conclusorily alleged that they were not impartial and had unspecified connections to Comcast. Both arbitrators then recused themselves. On January 16, 2019, the AAA appointed a third arbitrator, Daniel J. Thompson, and Ms. Brittingham did “not have any objections” to this third appointment. (Doc. 43-3 at 1).

         On January 29, 2019, the parties participated in a case management conference call with the Arbitrator. Ms. Brittingham confirmed during the call that she brought claims for sexual harassment under Title VII and wrongful termination under Alabama law. She also clarified that she did not bring any retaliation claims against either defendant. Also, the Arbitrator and the parties agreed on an April 15, 2019 dispositive motions deadline. The Arbitrator documented these points in his Case Management Order dated January 29, 2019. (See Doc. 43-4).

         On February 6, 2019, the parties jointly submitted a proposed revised Case Management Order that asked to reschedule the Arbitration hearing from June 20 to May 1, 2019. The revised Case Management Order also included revised pre-hearing deadlines and an extended deadline for filing dipositive motions. On February 8, 2019, the Arbitrator approved the parties' revised Case Management Order. (See Doc 43-5).

         On March 6, 2019, after the close of written discovery, counsel for Comcast deposed Ms. Brittingham. On March 8, 2019, Ms. Brittingham emailed the AAA case administrator stating that she was “unable to participate in arbitration due to mental stress and impairment, ” and requested that the Arbitrator “make a decision on this case without a telephone conference or an in-person hearing” and “without presenting exhibits or witnesses.” (Doc. 43-10 at 6). On March 11, 2019, she renewed her request in a strongly worded e-mail that stated, among other allegations, that the defendants and the Arbitrator were engaged in email tampering, that the case administrator ignored her mental health needs, and that her “PRESENCE IN TRIAL WILL NOT TURN OUT PEACEFULLY!” (Doc. 43-10 at 1-2) (emphasis in original).

         On March, 212019, Comcast submitted a motion for summary disposition to the Arbitrator. (Doc. 43-5). On March 22, 2019, Ms. Brittingham submitted her response in opposition to Comcast's motion. (Doc. 43-6). On April 2, 2019, the Arbitrator found that Ms. Brittingham had failed to present any factual evidence to support her claims against Comcast and granted Comcast's motion for summary disposition. (See Doc. 43-7).

         On the same day that the Arbitrator entered his order, Ms. Brittingham responded to the order in an email to Comcast's counsel and the AAA pro se manager. Ms. Brittingham started her email with, “[y]ou are all a piece of s***!” (Doc. 43-9 at 1). She also declared her intention to “take [her] case back to federal court” where she alleged that Comcast would “tie [her case] up for several more years” and “let [its] white collar crimes show up.” (Id.). Ms. Brittingham did not file a petition to the Arbitrator for a correction, reconsideration, or vacatur of his order.

         Instead, Ms. Brittingham filed a “Motion for Judge to Intervene” with the court. (Doc. 33). The court denied the motion. (See Doc. 39). The court found that, based on what it could glean from the unclear motion, her “Motion for Judge to Intervene” resembled a motion to vacate the Arbitrator's order granting Comcast's motion for summary disposition based on allegations of fraud and corruption. But her motion did not contain any facts about the arbitration that would allow the court to understand the procedural posture of the arbitration, much less find fraud or corruption by the Arbitrator. So, the court instructed Ms. Brittingham, if she so desired, to file a motion to vacate the Arbitrator's decision supported by specific facts.

         On May 1, 2019, Ms. Brittingham filed her motion to vacate the Arbitrator's order granting Comcast's motion for summary disposition. (Doc. 41). Comcast then filed its response and asked the court to confirm the Arbitrator's order. (Doc. 43). The court proceeds with its review of the arbitration award and Ms. Brittingham's allegations of fraud and corruption.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16, controls the court's “very limited” review of an arbitration award. Brown v. Rauscher Pierce Refsnes, Inc., 994 F.2d 775, 778 (11th Cir. 1993). The Act “imposes a heavy presumption in favor of confirming arbitration awards.” Cat Charter, LLC v. Schurtenberger, 646 F.3d 836, 842 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). And the court must confirm an arbitration award ...


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