NICOLE J. QUEZADA, Respondent - Appellee
BECHTEL OG & C CONSTRUCTION SERVICES, INCORPORATED, Movant - Appellant
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Texas
HIGGINBOTHAM, DENNIS, and HO, Circuit Judges.
L. DENNIS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
conclusion of an arbitration proceeding between Bechtel
OG&C Construction Services and its former employee Nicole
Quezada on her claims of disability discrimination, failure
to accommodate, and retaliation under the Americans with
Disabilities Act, Bechtel sought to vacate the
arbitrator's award under the Federal Arbitration Act.
Concluding it had jurisdiction over this request and
Quezada's responsive motion to confirm the award, the
district court determined that no basis existed under the
Federal Arbitration Act on which to vacate the award and it
therefore confirmed it. Because the district court correctly
concluded it had jurisdiction to entertain the motions
submitted by both parties and was correct to confirm the
arbitration award here, we AFFIRM.
Quezada worked for Bechtel OG&C Construction Services
(Bechtel) on a construction project from August 2015 to
February 2017. As a condition of her employment, Quezada was
required to agree to participate in Bechtel's Employee
Dispute Resolution Program (DRP). The DRP requires
arbitration before the American Arbitration Association (AAA)
for "resolving workplace disputes for both employees and
the company." The DRP contained detailed provisions
governing the procedures to be used by the arbitrator. The
DRP also required application of the substantive law that
would govern in the federal district court located where the
2017, Quezada and Bechtel jointly submitted an employment
dispute to the AAA, in which Quezada claimed Bechtel engaged
in discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation in
violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA). The AAA arbitrator appointed to preside
over the proceedings conducted a three-day evidentiary
hearing in March 2018 in Houston, Texas. The parties
submitted post-hearing briefs. The arbitrator issued an
interim award finding that Quezada had shown discrimination
based on Bechtel's refusal to allow her to work overtime,
but that she could not show discriminatory or retaliatory
termination "because she accepted a voluntary layoff and
it was not a constructive discharge." The arbitrator
found Quezada entitled to $500 in nominal damages for the
denial of overtime opportunities.
Quezada moved for reconsideration of the interim award. The
arbitrator granted reconsideration, setting aside the interim
order and finding that it had overlooked key evidence in its
earlier award. The arbitrator then issued a final award that
found Quezada had shown discrimination and failure to
accommodate based on denial of overtime, but that the
termination did not violate the ADA. Despite finding the
termination was not actionable, the arbitrator awarded (1)
$41, 944 in back pay (pre-hearing earnings since
termination), (2) $50, 440 in front pay (projected future
earnings), (3) $6, 000 for compensatory damages for
"depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping and . . . PTSD
due to Bechtel's treatment of her," (4) $500 in
"[n]ominal damages arising from the denial of the
opportunity to work overtime," (5) $197, 797.06 in
prevailing party attorneys' fees and costs, (6) $98,
934.25 in pre- and post-judgment interest.
then sought vacatur or, alternatively, modification, of the
arbitration award in the Southern District of Texas, arguing
that the arbitrator exceeded his authority under the
parties' submissions, because its fact finding that
Quezada's termination was not unlawful precluded its
award of back- and front-pay, compensatory damages, and
attorneys' fees under governing law. Quezada later moved
to confirm the award. The district court concluded (1) it had
subject matter jurisdiction over the action under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331 as the action arose under federal law (i.e., a
federal question); and (2) Bechtel was not entitled to
vacatur under the narrow grounds for such relief provided by
the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Accordingly, the district
court denied Bechtel's motion to vacate and granted
Quezada's motion to confirm. Bechtel timely appealed.
first examine the basis for the district court's, and
our, jurisdiction, which we must consider despite the
parties' agreement that we have jurisdiction. Howery
v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 919 (5th Cir. 2001)
(noting that "federal courts . . . must consider
jurisdiction sua sponte if not raised by the
parties"); United States v. Key, 205 F.3d 773,
774 (5th Cir. 2000) ("If the district court lacked
jurisdiction, our jurisdiction extends not to the merits but
merely for the purpose of correcting the error of the lower
court in entertaining the suit." (cleaned up)).
expresses Congress's intent that private arbitration
agreements be enforced according to their terms.
Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int'l Corp.,
559 U.S. 662, 682 (2010). Under the FAA, arbitration
agreements "shall be valid, irrevocable, and
enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in
equity for the revocation of any contract." 9 U.S.C.
§ 2; see Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 682.
Additionally, a party to an arbitration agreement can seek an
order from a federal district court compelling arbitration, 9
U.S.C. § 4; see Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 682,
and any party to an arbitration may seek to confirm the final
arbitration award, which "the court must grant . . .
unless the award is vacated, modified, or corrected as
prescribed in sections 10 and 11 of [the FAA]." 9 U.S.C.
§ 9; Hall St. Associates, L.L.C. v. Mattel,
Inc., 552 U.S. 576, 582 (2008).
for jurisdiction over controversies touching arbitration, the
[FAA] does nothing, being 'something of an anomaly in the
field of federal-court jurisdiction' in bestowing no
federal jurisdiction but rather requiring an independent
jurisdictional basis." Hall St. Associates, L.L.C.
v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, 581-82 (2008). Such
independent bases include diversity of citizenship under 28
U.S.C. § 1332 or federal question jurisdiction under 28
U.S.C. § 1331. See Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v.
Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 26 n.32 (1983).
Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49 (2009), the
Supreme Court addressed the proper standard for determining
federal jurisdiction when faced with a petition to compel
arbitration under section 4 of the FAA. 556 U.S. at 62. The
Court rejected the standard articulation of the well-pleaded
complaint rule ordinarily used to analyze federal
jurisdiction, under which courts would look to the face of
the federal court petition for a basis for federal
jurisdiction. Id. Instead, the Court adopted the
so-called "look through" approach. Id.
Under this approach, "[a] federal court may 'look
through' a § 4 petition to determine whether it is
predicated on an action that 'arises under' federal
law." Id. Thus, whereas the well-pleaded
complaint rule would require the section 4 motion to compel
itself evinces a federal cause of action, under
Vaden, courts should examine the underlying dispute