In Hill v. Wackenhut Services International, an employment-related dispute involving alleged unpaid compensation for employees’ work on American military bases overseas, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld an arbitral award authorizing class arbitration, basing its decision on the extremely limited availability of judicial review of arbitral awards and two Supreme Court cases. Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animal Feeds International Corp. (2010) held that a court may not uphold an arbitrator’s decision to permit class arbitration if it reflects the arbitrator’s personal policy preferences rather than an interpretation of the parties’ agreement. Consistent with Stolt-Nielsen, Oxford Health Plans, LLC v. Sutter (2013) teaches that a court must uphold an arbitrator’s decision to permit class arbitration so long as that decision was “arguably construing” the parties’ agreement, even if the interpretation is mistaken. The Hill court found that the arbitrator had authorized class arbitration based upon the doctrines of collateral and judicial estoppel, which stemmed from the Hill defendants’ acceptance of a class arbitration award in an earlier related class proceeding. Because the Hill employment agreement’s choice-of-law clause incorporated federal and Florida law, both of which recognize the principles of estoppel on which the arbitrator relied, the arbitrator’s decision to invoke those doctrines “drew its essence from the contract,” consistent with the mandate of Oxford Health. Hill v. Wackenhut Services International, Case No. 11-2158 (JEB) (D.D.C. Sept. 18, 2013).

This post written by Kyle Whitehead.

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