The Third Circuit affirmed a district court decision denying a motion to vacate an arbitration award issued in favor of Pittsburgh Glass Works and PGW Auto Glass and against James Freeman. Freeman had asserted age discrimination claims in federal district court against the respondents after being fired from his job. The parties agreed upon a retired state court judge to arbitrate their dispute. The arbitrator had recently lost an election to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Freeman moved to have the award vacated on the basis that the arbitrator was biased because she had failed to disclose that she had received $4,500 in campaign contributions from PPG Industries, a minority owner of Pittsburgh Glass and PGW, during her unsuccessful Pennsylvania Supreme Court bid. Further, Freeman argued that the arbitrator had failed to disclose that she co-taught a law school course with a senior employment attorney at PPG Industries.
The district court denied the petition and the Third Circuit affirmed, holding that failing to disclose the existence of judicial campaign contributions did not establish “evident partiality” by the arbitrator, particularly in this instance where PPG Industries’ contributions were relatively small and, moreover, Freeman’s law firm had contributed five times the amount that PPG Industries had to the judge’s campaign. An undisclosed professional relationship with a minority owner was not “powerfully suggestive of bias.” The court made clear that “an arbitrator is evidently partial only if a reasonable person would necessarily conclude that the arbitrator was partial to one side,” and was careful to distinguish that standard from the more exacting appearance of bias standard for federal judges. , LLC, No. 12-2026 (3d Cir. Mar. 6, 2013).