July 24, 2020 Top Story

Fifth Circuit Adopts "Look Through" Test for Arbitration Awards

Circuit split grows over jurisdiction for post-arbitral relief claims

By Katherine G. Vazquez

A plaintiff sought post-arbitral relief in federal court. The district court concluded that it had federal question jurisdiction and, on appeal, in Quezada v. Bechtel OG & C Construction Services, Inc., the Fifth Circuit joined the First, Second, and Fourth Circuits in adopting the “look through” test for petitions to confirm, vacate, or modify arbitration awards. By contrast, the Third, Seventh, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits have rejected the “look through” test. While state court post-arbitral relief is available, the strategy for practitioners looking to preserve federal question jurisdiction varies by circuit court.

The "look through" test allows a federal court to determine if the underlying issue of the arbitration is federal

The "look through" test allows a federal court to determine if the underlying issue of the arbitration is federal

Credit: SIphotography | iStockphoto by Getty Images

The Fifth’s Circuit Decision

As required by an employment contract, an employee and employer jointly submitted an employment dispute to the American Arbitration Association. The employee claimed that the employer engaged in discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The arbitrator issued a final award for the employee.

The employer sought modification of the award in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The employee moved to confirm the award. The district court held that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the action since the action arose under federal law. The court then denied the employer’s motion, and a timely appeal followed.

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