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Lerner v. Citigroup

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 12, 2019

ANTONIA LERNER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITIGROUP, Defendant

          OPINION

          HON. KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.

         The plaintiff, Antonia Lerner, pro se, brought this action for money damages against her former employer, Defendant Citigroup Inc., for alleged racial, gender, and disability discrimination arising out the termination of her employment. Ms. Lerner asserted claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42U.S.C.§ 12101 et seq., and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1 et seq. After I granted Citigroup's motion to compel arbitration (DE 9), an arbitrator heard Ms. Lerner's claims and ruled in Citigroup's favor. The arbitrator found that Ms. Lerner's termination was not based on any discriminatory motive with respect to her, but rather was part of a bona fide global workforce relocation strategy, and therefore lawful. (DE 28-3 at 28).[1]

         Ms. Lerner has now filed a motion (DE 23) to vacate the arbitration award. For the reasons stated herein, I will deny Ms. Lerner's motion to vacate.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Summary of Facts and Allegations[2]

         Ms. Lerner was employed by defendant Citigroup-a global financial services firm-as an Apps Support Senior Analyst within Citigroup's Treasury and Trade Solutions Production Support Group in Jersey City, New Jersey. She was terminated from her position on March 26, 2015. According to Citigroup, this was part of a larger program by which many positions were relocated to India, where labor costs were cheaper. According to Ms. Lerner, her termination was discriminatory.

         On April 22, 2015, after her termination, Ms. Lerner filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (''EEOC''), complaining of gender and disability discrimination.

         B. Procedural History

         1. Complaint and motion to compel arbitration

         On March 21, 2016, Ms. Lerner filed a complaint with this Court, alleging a failure to accommodate her disability, termination due to her disability and gender, and retaliatory discharge after she filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC. (DE 1). Thereafter, Citigroup filed a motion to compel arbitration based on an arbitration clause in Ms. Lerner's employment contract. (DE 8). I granted that motion via a memorandum opinion and order dated August 1, 2016. In that opinion, I found that a valid arbitration agreement existed between Ms. Lerner and Citigroup which covered the scope of Ms. Lerner's claims. (DE 9).

         2. Proceedings in arbitration

         Ms. Lerner then filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"). (DE 28-2 at 24-36). On January 11, 2017, Arbitrator Jack P. Levin was chosen from the arbitrator lists submitted by the parties and appointed as the arbitrator. (DE 28-3 at 13-14). At this time, the parties had the opportunity to object to the appointment of Arbitrator Levin, but there is no indication in the record that either party objected then. (Id.). Ms. Lerner appeared pro se during the arbitration. (Award ¶ 2).

         On March 18, 2017, Arbitrator Levin entered a scheduling order to govern discovery, and on August 28, 2017, he entered a revised scheduling order. (DE 28-3 at 16-20). At the end of discovery, Citigroup made a written request for leave to file a motion for summary judgment, which the arbitrator permitted. (DE 28-3 at 22-26; Award ¶ 14). At Ms. Lerner's request, the parties and Arbitrator Levin held a conference call on December 29, 2017 during which the Arbitrator explained the nature of a summary judgment motion and advised Ms. Lerner that it was her burden to establish her claims with facts and applicable law. (Award ¶ 44, n. 6).

         On March 9, 2018, Citigroup filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that (1) Ms. Lerner's failure-to-accommodate claim could not be proven, because Ms. Lerner conceded in her deposition that Citigroup granted her requests for an accommodation; (2) Ms. Lerner's discriminatory-termination claim could not be proven, because other non-disabled, male employees were also terminated in connection with Citigroup's cost-saving strategy to shift certain jobs to lower-cost locations; and (3) Ms. Lerner's retaliation claim could not be proven because the person who made the decision to terminate Ms. Lerner was not aware of Ms. Lerner's complaint with the EEOC at the time. (Def. Mot. at 13-14). Citigroup based its arguments primarily on sworn certifications of Citigroup personnel and information learned from Ms, Lerner's deposition. [Id.). Ms. Lerner submitted her own certification in opposition to Citigroup's motion for summary judgment and was permitted to introduce evidence into the record. (Def. Mot. at 18).

         3. Arbitration award

          On July 9, 2018, Arbitrator Levin granted Citigroup's motion for summary judgment on all claims and dismissed Ms. Lerner's claims in their entirely. His ...


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