July 21, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Previous Arbitration of Employment Contractual Claims Does Not Waive or Preclude Similar Statutory Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mathews v. Denver Newspaper Agency LLP on Tuesday, May 17, 2011.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s decision. Petitioner, formerly a unionized employee of Respondents, sought to litigate statutory employment discrimination claims despite having previously arbitrated similar contractual claims to a final, adverse determination. The district court found that a recent Supreme Court decision in, Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, 129 S. Ct. 1456 (2009), controls the issue and gave the arbitral decision preclusive force. The district court also found that Petitioner was unable to demonstrate that he was qualified for his former position, a showing necessary to the establishment of a prima facie case of discriminatory demotion.

The Court, however, disagreed with the district court as to enforcing the arbitral decision. The relevant facts of the case instead follow those of a different Supreme Court case: Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36 (1974). “There, as here, no waiver of the right to litigate statutory claims has occurred, because ‘mere resort to the arbitral forum to enforce contractual rights constitutes no such waiver.’ . . . Because the submission of Mathews’s contractual claims to binding arbitration results in no waiver or preclusion of his statutory claims, summary judgment on such grounds was inappropriate.” However, the Court agreed with the district court and concluded that Petitioner was unable to demonstrate that he was qualified for his former position in his claim of discriminatory demotion.

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