Notes on Diversity: Princeton’s Ramona Romero on Higher Education; Toronto Consultant/Neutral Verlyn Francis on ADR Ethics

By Arjan Bir Singh Sodhi

Here is a synopsis of the CPR Diversity in ADR Task Force meeting conducted online on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.

Welcome & Introductions

CPR Diversity in ADR Task Force Co-Chairs the Hon. Timothy K. Lewis and the Hon. Shira A. Scheindlin welcomed and thanked the panelists and attendees for joining.

Interview with Ramona E. Romero, vice president and general counsel at Princeton University, in Princeton, N.J.

Task Force co-chair Timothy Lewis, retired Third U.S. Circuit Court judge and counsel in Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis started the panel discussion on diversity in ADR. He gave a brief introduction for Romero and asked her to share her experience as an immigrant to the United States. Romero started her interview by thanking all the participants of the meeting. She also shared her story of moving to the United States at age 11 from the Dominican Republic. From an early age, Romero said she emphasized the value of working hard. She placed much importance on collaboration and how it helped her learn.

Task Force co-chair Shira Scheindlin, retired New York U.S. District Court judge and of counsel in New York’s Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, led the second part of the interview, asking Romero to share her views on considering characteristics that are fair for admission purposes in law schools and universities. Romero replied that she believes affirmative action is still required due to racial and ethical inequalities in schooling, housing, employment, and policing.  She discussed Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, No. 20-1199, which highlights the issues faced by the students regarding their university admissions.

Romero then shared her view on immigration policy, noting, “Immigration is essential to higher education as it is essential to the diverse economy of the United States.” She emphasized the importance of having a diverse U.S. judiciary as it increases trust and perception of fairness. Because, she said, the majority of people who deal with the judiciary are people of color, having a diverse judiciary with more people of color and women will aid in building trust for the judicial process.

Romero concluded her discussion by hoping that corporations, businesses and interested parties can do better in the future by promoting the advancement of women and people of color in the legal profession.

Verlyn Francis, Presentation on “Ethics in Arbitration: Bias, Diversity, and Inclusion.”

Francis is an arbitrator, mediator, and trainer at Isiko Dispute Resolution Consultants, Toronto, and a Professor of ADR at Centennial College, also in Toronto. She started her presentation by talking about the genesis of ethics and impartiality of arbitrators and how we can reduce impartiality bias in arbitration.

She stressed the importance of the code of ethics in the arbitration proceeding. Francis spoke about the consequences of applying those ethical codes to people who didn’t play any role in developing those codes. She said she hopes that many institutions will work on improving rules, ethics, and impartiality in arbitration.

She also spoke about layers of cultural affiliation that can often create stereotypes for other cultures. Hence, she said, an arbitrator should always be aware of implicit bias that can have discriminatory actions towards the parties. She then acknowledged CPR’s recent implicit bias webinar, Imperfect Impartiality: How Neutrals Can Combat Implicit Bias.

She said that often implicit bias operates without awareness of the participants, but the discrimination it produces is visible to those at a disadvantage.

She also expressed concern for the lack of diversity in arbitration that can have its roots in the legal profession, since ADR practitioners are mostly former judges or senior lawyers in law firms where minorities often remain significantly underrepresented.

She also mentioned the Jay-Z case in which the American Arbitration Association roster was challenged due to the lack of available African-American arbitrators. Since that case, the AAA has worked to develop a diverse roster. Francis also noted CPR’s initiatives to further promote diversity and inclusion in the field of ADR. She praised the steps taken by the American Bar Association by passing Resolution 105, which encourages the inclusion of diverse neutrals. She concluded her presentation by encouraging all the panelists to promote diversity in ADR.

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Allen Waxman, CPR’s President and Chief Executive Officer thanked all the panelists for their participation in the discussion. Waxman discussed the importance of understanding dynamics within the tribunal to ensure that all the efforts to increase diversity translate to greater inclusivity.

CPR Announcements closed the Task Force meeting, discussing several events hosted by the CPR Institute, including the 2021 CPR International Conference on Business Dispute Management, which followed the Diversity Task Force event on Oct 6-7 (information at https://www.cpradr.org/events-classes/upcoming/CPR-International-Conference) (Watch CPR Speaks for excerpts from the conference). More events can be found here, and participants were asked to save the date for the 2022 CPR Annual Meeting,  March 2-4.

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The author, a CPR 2021 Fall Intern, is an LLM candidate at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, at Malibu, Calif.’s Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law.

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