The EEOC Set to Release Two Reports Comparing Online and In-Person Mediation

By Mylene Chan

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency which enforces federal workplace anti-discrimination laws, will release Tuesday two reports on the transition to video mediation from traditional in-person sessions during the course of the pandemic.

The reports’ striking positive view of online ADR points to continued use, post-pandemic.

The EEOC had conducted about 10,000 mediations annually in the past decade–in-person until mid-March 2022, when it transitioned to online dispute resolution due to the Covid-19 outbreak. See “EEOC Mediation Statistics FY 1999 through FY 2020,” at https://bit.ly/38VirmT.

In September 2020, the EEOC commissioned researcher E. Patrick McDermott, a professor of management and legal studies of Franklin P. Perdue School of Business at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md., with Ruth Obar, a program evaluation scholar based in Manila, Philippines, to conduct an online dispute resolution survey to measure the performance of online mediation against in-person processes.

This survey used the same performance measures employed in previous surveys by the EEOC since 2000 annually to measure participant satisfaction with in-person mediation.

“Our two independent studies of the mediator and participants’ experience in online mediation,  which includes party representatives, leave no doubt that we are seeing the rise of a new and improved model of workplace discrimination mediation,” said McDermott. He added, “Without a playbook, the EEOC mediation program National Coordinator, Stephen Ichniowski,  the District Office ADR Program Managers, and the many program mediators transitioned successfully from in-person to online mediation.  This program’s success and the data should be considered in future dispute resolution design in the courts, administrative agencies, and private models.”

The new releases covering the two studies, “Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Mediators’ Perception of Remote Mediation and Comparisons to In-Person Mediation” and “The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Mediation Participants Experience in Online Mediation and Comparison to In-Person Mediation,” are expected to be released here Tuesday morning. They indicate that most of the survey participants prefer online mediation over in-person mediation, and that they believe procedural fairness, distributive justice, and access to justice are greater in online mediation. 

Here are the key findings:

  • 92% of charging parties and 98% of employers would conduct EEOC online mediation again.
  • 86% of charging parties and 94% of employers believe that EEOC’s online mediation procedures are fair.
  • 82% of charging parties and 91% of employers regard the overall online mediation as fair.
  • 60% of charging parties and 72% of employers are satisfied with the outcome of the online mediation, a rate higher than the same measure taken for in-person mediation previously. 
  • Nearly 70% of the participants prefer online mediation to in-person mediation.
  • Online mediation affords significantly greater access to justice because employers are more willing to participate in a mediation done online.
  • Employers report higher satisfaction across procedural and due process measures in online mediation.

The EEOC’s results echo and confirm the views of many practitioners who find Zoom mediation to be a successful model. 

John M. Noble, a Greensburg, Pa., mediator who reports he had 267 2021 mediations, shared his positive experience with Zoom:

Having conducted 564 remote sessions in the first 26 months of this Covid era, the mid-2020 notion that in-person ADR is still “better” than Zoom is now near non-existent. The non-travel benefits alone have proven life-altering: when the session is over, you are home or in the office; no more hotels or trains, planes and automobiles; no weather/dangerous highway issues; plaintiffs are expressly more comfortable in their own homes; defense representatives markedly increase efficiencies–at no added costs–participating from their home or office work-stations, given the routine in-person session down-time.

The participants and shared documents are “closer” to me on screen than in-person and I hear better with the head-set. Remarkably, while five of the eight insisted-upon in-person sessions I reluctantly conducted in 2020-22 did not settle (two of the cases saw no offers!), I have seen record numbers of settlement dollars accepted remotely­-over $450 million and counting. Frankly, my location has become irrelevant as I now Zoom with people from any time zone and I very thankfully no longer travel 12-20 hours a week. Beyond sold: . . . remote ADR is here to stay!

Colin Rule, chief executive officer of Resourceful Internet Solutions Inc., which owns mediate.com, commented,

Zoom has revolutionized the practice of mediation. Many mediators conducted their first online mediation via Zoom during the pandemic, and now they won’t go back.  Video conference mediation has become the new normal, with face-to-face processes the exception–a complete reversal from pre-2019. 

Zoom-based mediation helps parties be at their best; it allows for more flexible mediation processes (with more breaks), and it’s much greener (with fewer car miles and airline flights).  Parties prefer Zoom for mediation because of the cost and convenience, and studies are showing mediation over Zoom is equally as effective as face-to-face mediations.  Zoom is constantly improving their platform, and video and audio quality are certain to get even better over the coming years.  Zoom may be the gateway to more technological innovations for mediation in the near future.

Other mediators see advantages and disadvantages of online mediation and will use it if needed . . . but do not prefer it.  See, e.g., Robert A. Creo, “The Post Pandemic Compromise: Hybrid Mediation!”, 39 Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation 111 (July/August 2021)  (available at https://bit.ly/3wQaxmZ).  

The two EEOC reports confirm that online mediation is widely accepted by mediators and participants. Online mediation, which was initially deemed as a temporary fix, is likely to continue to become mainstream at the EEOC even after the pandemic recedes.

***

The author is 2022 Founders’ Fellow of Mediators Beyond Borders International. She is a former CPR intern, and has written for and contributed to this CPR Speaks blog and CPR’s newsletter, Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation.

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Supreme Court Rejects Prejudice Requirement for Defeating a Motion to Compel Arbitration

By R. Daniel Knaap & Russ Bleemer

The U.S. Supreme Court backed a Taco Bell worker resisting her employer’s motion to compel arbitration this morning when it ruled, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Elena Kagan, that a party need not show it was prejudiced by the moving party’s actions.

The decision vacated an Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that arbitration was not waived because the resisting party did not prove it was prejudiced by the adversary’s actions.

Morgan v. Sundance, Inc., No. 21-328 (today’s decision available at https://bit.ly/3NywXj5), means that parties waive their right to compel arbitration based on their actions, not on the judicially established prejudice requirement—a plain reading of the Federal Arbitration Act.

“Did Sundance knowingly relinquish the right to arbitrate by acting inconsistently with that right?” writes Kagan, framing the state of the law on the inquiry for courts. The opinion concludes: “On remand, the Court of Appeals may resolve that question, or determine that a different procedural framework (such as forfeiture) is appropriate. The Court’s sole holding today is that it may not make up a new procedural rule based on the FAA’s ‘policy favoring arbitration.’”

The decision resolves a 9-2 circuit split; nine jurisdictions require a party resisting arbitration under waiver to prove that they have been prejudiced, while two jurisdictions do not have such a requirement. Today’s opinion sides with the minority position, rejecting the idea that the FAA authorizes federal courts to invent arbitration-specific procedural rules, holding that the “federal policy is about treating arbitration contracts like all others, not about fostering arbitration.”

Morgan is the second arbitration opinion of the term, and the second by Kagan invoking a plain reading of the FAA that backs the plaintiff’s position. Today’s 9-0 decision was preceded by Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143 (available here), an 8-1 March 31 decision rejecting FAA jurisdiction in federal courts for statutory sections on enforcing and challenging awards. For more on Badgerow, see Russ Bleemer & Andrew Ling, “Supreme Court Rejects Federal FAA Jurisdiction for Arbitration Award Enforcement and Challenges, (March 31) (available at https://bit.ly/3wB2hZ8).

In fact, three more decisions are pending. Morgan is one of four arbitration cases argued in the nation’s top Court in the second half of March. Decisions on the other three cases are pending. More information can be found by inserting “Supreme Court” in the box in the upper right of this page to search CPR Speaks, or by clicking here.

* * *

In Morgan, Justice Kagan takes both narrow and broad views of different arbitration points.

First, the opinion narrowly declines to tackle a variety of analogous analysis points on state law in assessing waiver, focusing the decision on the Eighth Circuit’s approach that has “generally resolved cases like this one as a matter of federal law, using the terminology of waiver.”

“For today,” writes Kagan, “we assume without deciding they are right to do so.”

After declining to rule fully on that approach, the opinion said that instead it looked solely at “the next step,” whether federal courts “may create arbitration-specific variants of federal procedural rules, like those concerning waiver, based on the FAA’s ‘policy favoring arbitration.’”

That made the case an easy call. The Court agreed in just seven pages that the answer is a hard no on adding a prejudice requirement to the inquiry of whether the party knew it was subject to arbitration, and acted inconsistently with that right.

The opinion notes that “in demanding . . . proof [of prejudice] before finding the waiver of an arbitration right, the Eighth Circuit applies a rule found nowhere else—consider it a bespoke rule of waiver for arbitration.”

Instead, the Court adopted the views of the Seventh and District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals that there is no prejudice requirement.

But more broadly, Kagan also used the opinion to tamp down perceptions of the Court’s tilt to arbitration. The effect of the clarification is an unmistakable unanimous Court acknowledgment to criticism that it has elevated arbitration over courtroom litigation.

The opinion returned to seminal cases to explain—in the opinion’s view, re-emphasize–that the Court’s policy favoring arbitration–emanating from Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Construction Corp., 460 U.S. 1 (1983)–“does not authorize federal courts to invent special, arbitration-preferring procedural rules.” Nor does it allow courts to “devise novel rules to favor arbitration over litigation,” referring to Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. v. Byrd, 470 U. S. 213, 218–221 (1985).

Citing Granite Rock Co. v. Teamsters, 561 U. S. 287, 302 (2010), Kagan writes that the policy “is merely an acknowledgment of the FAA’s commitment to overrule the judiciary’s longstanding refusal to enforce agreements to arbitrate and to place such agreements upon the same footing as other contracts.”

She then added the Prima Paint pronouncement: “The policy is to make ‘arbitration agreements as enforceable as other contracts, but not more so.’” Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U. S. 395, 404, n. 12 (1967).

* * *

Morgan involves a Fair Labor Standards Act suit brought by petitioner Robyn Morgan against Sundance Inc., which owns 150 Taco Bell franchises throughout the United States, including the Iowa franchise where Morgan was an hourly employee. The complaint alleged that Sundance did not fully compensate its employees for the hours they worked. Although the suit was initially filed as a nationwide collective action, Michigan hourly employees were excluded because they were able to join a similar action filed two years earlier in Michigan’s Eastern U.S. District Court–the so-called Wood action.

The Morgan and Wood plaintiffs engaged in joint mediation with Sundance in April 2019. The mediation settled the Wood action, but not Morgan. Sundance then moved to compel individual arbitration of Morgan’s claims in May 2019, invoking the arbitration provision in the employment contract.

Morgan opposed this, arguing that Sundance had waived its right to compel arbitration by engaging in litigation. The Iowa Southern U.S. District Court denied the motion, finding that Morgan was prejudiced by having to defend to Sundance’s earlier motion to dismiss and by spending time and resources on the class-wide mediation instead of individual arbitration.

The oral arguments were discussed in detail at “Supreme Court Reviews the Role of Prejudice to a Party in Determining Arbitration Waiver,” CPR Speaks (March 21) (available here).

For more on the history of the case, see Mark Kantor, “U.S. Supreme Court Adds an Arbitration Issue: Is Proof of Prejudice Needed to Defeat a Motion to Compel?” CPR Speaks (November 15, 2021) (available here), and Russ Bleemer, “The Supreme Court’s Six-Pack Is Set to Refine Arbitration Practice,” 40 Alternatives 17 (February 2022) (available here).

* * *

Knaap, a law student at Columbia University Law School in New York, is a 2022 CPR Summer intern. Bleemer edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for CPR.

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Government Support: Task Force Meeting Covers ADR’s Reach into Federal Agencies

By Katerina Karamousalidou

A CPR Government & ADR Task Force meeting last month focused on the U.S. government’s executive branch alternative dispute resolution use. The participants, who included authors of a recent federal government ADR study, described ADR use and emphasized the need for support and assessments of the effectiveness of the processes used to negotiate and settle.

The April 19 meeting started with an introduction from CPR Senior Vice-President Ellen Parker, who explained that the Task Force’s mission is to educate companies, law firms, and government agencies and their attorneys on the laws and the specific requirements for engaging in ADR with target government agencies.

The Task Force comprises leading practitioners, corporate counsel, neutrals, academics, and current and former federal government employees, including ADR specialists and dispute resolution directors. Parker introduced the Committee chair, Pete Swanson, Director of the Office of Conflict Management and Prevention at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a 75-year-old independent Washington, D.C., agency whose mission is to preserve and promote labor-management peace and cooperation.  

Swanson, together with Jeremy Graboyes, Director of Public and Interagency Programs at the Administrative Conference of the United States, an independent federal agency whose statutory mission is to identify ways to improve the procedures by which federal agencies protect the public interest and determine the rights, privileges, and obligations of private persons.

They dove into ACUS’s history and the work it has been doing in promoting ADR use by federal agencies. Swanson and Graboyes were joined by University of Nebraska College of Law Prof. Kristen M. Blankley, of Lincoln, Neb., and Mediator Judith Starr, who heads ADR consulting firm Starr ADR in Palmetto, Fla. Blankley and Starr are co-authors of a consulting report on ACUS’s work, “Alternative Dispute Resolution in Agency Administrative Programs with the Administrative Conference of the United States” (Dec. 17, 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/38Vaeii).

Jeremy Graboyes set the stage by explaining ACUS’s mission in promoting effective public participation in the regulatory process by reducing unnecessary litigation and improving the use of science and the effectiveness of applicable laws.

He emphasized that ACUS has long been active in examining how agencies use ADR to manage federal administrative programs fairly and efficiently. ACUS also has published a variety of ADR-related reports in source books during its tenure, including a 1995 practitioners’ deskbook developed in partnership with the CPR Institute, the “The ADR Breakthrough for Government Contract Disputes.”

The agency’s efforts led to passage of the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act in 1990 and 1996 (an ACUS wiki explains the acts here), and the Negotiated Rulemaking Act (ACUS wiki here). Both acts designated ACUS as the lead agency responsible for coordinating ADR and negotiated rulemaking.

Jeremy Graboyes also mentioned that ACUS undertook an important project, the use of ombuds in federal agencies, and launched a new project to investigate how agencies might better use different types of ADR to resolve matters related to their core statutory authorities.

ACUS has recently established an ADR Advisory Group to advise the agency on potential new initiatives to improve ADR design and administration across the federal government, working closely with Pete Swanson and FMCS.

Kristen Blankley explained the overview, methodology, and main research areas of the ACUS consulting report. Judith Starr then talked about ADR’s deep historical roots in federal agencies since early 1900s to 1990 ADRA, the subsequent legislative landmarks, and the ACUS’s role in assisting in executive branch ADR implementation.

Blankley analyzed the most preferred selection and implementation of ADR modalities, including mediation, facilitation, ombuds, arbitration, conciliation, and factfinding.  She reviewed recommendations regarding the selection and implementation of ADR processes in relation to the increased visibility of these programs, as well as the need to establish routine outside program evaluation.

Judith Starr said that staffing practices are highly dependent on agency resources. She talked about training programs and opportunities, their variation in length and form, and recommended continuing education, certification opportunities, and specialized training. Blankley emphasized the importance of increasing transparency in ADR proceedings, confidentiality, and harmonized ethics rules. Blankley also highlighted ADR case management strategies and tools, the importance of external audits, software review, and ethics policies for case managers.

Starr concluded her presentation by talking about interagency ADR operations, and Blankley discussed areas for further research, such as wellness, diversity, online dispute resolution, and supporting ADR across the executive branch.

The meeting concluded with a Q-and-A session.

* * *

The author, an LLM student focusing on international commercial arbitration at Pepperdine University School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution in Malibu, Calif., is a Spring 2022 CPR Intern.

[END]

Mediating Commercial Disputes: Understanding the Process to Maximize the Benefits

By Mia Levi

Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party—a mediator—meets with the disputing parties and actively assists them in reaching a settlement. Mediation is private and confidential, flexible, and more informal than other processes such as arbitration or litigation. It is concluded expeditiously, allowing parties to settle the dispute or narrow their issues at moderate cost. The overwhelming majority of disputes in mediation (70% to 80% of commercial disputes) settle, and because the outcomes are mutually agreed upon, they have high rates of compliance.

Mediation is able to preserve relationships because the emphasis is on the interests of the parties—process flexibility allows the people involved to find the best path to agreement. Parties may adapt the procedure to their own needs and can explore a wide range of remedies that might not have been available to them in court. It’s also more predictable than a trial decided by a judge or jury, avoids a “win or lose” outcome, and allows for an amicable resolution that may preserve the parties’ relationship. The goal is to resolve problems in a principled fashion (or reach an impasse) and move on.

But often, parties may be hesitant to agree to mediation. This can be remedied by understanding which kinds of disputes are suitable for mediation, when to schedule the mediation so that it is most successful, and, finally, how the mediation process itself works.

Is the Dispute Right for Mediation?

It is possible that the dispute at hand is not suitable for mediation. The ADR Suitability Guide, published by the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR), outlines three factors parties should consider in deciding the suitability of a case for mediation: (1) the parties’ goals for managing the dispute, (2) the suitability of the dispute for a mediation process, and (3) the potential benefits of mediation in relation to the specific dispute being considered.

First, looking at the parties’ goals, if there is a desire to maintain a working relationship, maintain control over the outcome, limit costs and disruption, and maintain privacy, then mediation may be a preferable tool. Second, for the dispute to be suitable for mediation, there should be no deep desire for vindication or revenge by the parties, no need to attain legal precedent, and no extreme power imbalance. Third, the potential benefits of mediation include allowing the parties to explore mutual needs and interests confidentially, providing an opportunity to be heard, providing a “reality check” for internal decision makers, helping to clarify the issues, and providing the opportunity to have an intermediary help frame proposals and present offers and counteroffers. Parties should weigh all these factors in making the decision to mediate.

Among dispute resolution processes, mediation offers a maximum degree of confidentiality and privacy. Contractual and legal protections provide additional assurances against the use or disclosure of mediation statements or documents. These confidentiality protections contrast sharply with the public nature of the litigation process and its procedures that encourage public disclosure. If parties are looking to attain a ruling that will contribute to legal precedent or require articulation of public policy, mediation likely is not the proper forum.

When Should Parties Mediate?

There is no one right time to conduct a mediation. Including a mediation step (prior to arbitration or litigation) in the proceedings is an easy way to ensure that the parties discuss settlement options. When mediated, many cases are settled or partially settled at the initial stages of the case. Settling even part of the dispute up front can make the arbitration hearings or litigation shorter and less expensive. The opportunities to reduce the costs and wear and tear of court proceedings are greatest before litigation has commenced, but mediation may be a sensible option at any point in the litigation process, even while an appeal from a trial court judgment is pending. Parties not ready for mediation at the outset of the case may be more receptive as it runs its course.

Indeed, the timing of mediation may be rendered somewhat inflexible when parties contract for a sequential, multistep dispute resolution. While tiered dispute resolution clauses may get parties to the mediation table, these provisions may not assist parties in achieving this goal at an ideal time in the life of their dispute. Some parties may find it more beneficial to mediate their dispute after some discovery has been exchanged. Parties should continuously keep an open mind as opportunities for settlement arise throughout the proceedings. It is not uncommon for cases to settle during or even after the hearings. Sometimes, an additional mediation session after some discovery is effective in reaching a settlement.

For those parties contemplating mediation in conjunction with arbitration, the Concurrent Mediation-Arbitration Clauses and Protocol, which CPR introduced in July 2020, allows the parties to agree they will attempt to settle any dispute that is the subject of arbitration by confidential mediation conducted during the pendency of the arbitration. This process was developed to encourage the availability of mediation to parties in a more flexible manner than is provided under standard multistep dispute resolution provisions. This, in turn, creates an opportunity for parties to continue to explore settlement options based on what they learn during the arbitration proceedings and without delaying those proceedings.

What Should the Parties Expect from Mediation?

Parties who have not written mediation into their contract or dispute resolution clause may need to execute a submission agreement—essentially an agreement to submit the dispute to mediation with an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider—or they may agree to mediate in an ad hoc process. Notably, an ADR provider will be able to assist the parties in selecting the appropriate mediator for their dispute.

Many ADR institutions provide opportunities for parties to further streamline the mediator-appointment process. For example, streamlined mediator appointment is suitable for disputes where the parties wish the ADR provider to choose a mediator for them. Parties submit information about their dispute and the candidate sought, and the ADR provider will make the selection based on the information provided by the parties and vet the candidate for conflicts purposes before the appointment. This streamlined process lowers administrative costs and allows the parties greater speed in getting a mediator appointed and the process underway.

The process itself will depend on the mediator selected. Mediators will have different styles of mediation. On one side of the spectrum, facilitative mediators will work with parties to find creative solutions that meet the interests and needs of the parties. This will be beneficial for cases where parties wish to continue a personal or business relationship. On the other side, evaluative mediators will offer an opinion regarding the relative strength of each side’s legal arguments and generally will predict the likely outcome if the parties were to bring the case to trial. Mediators may also offer a hybrid style, combining the two.

Conclusion

Understanding the mediation process will help parties gain more advantages from the mediation itself. It is important for parties to realize that while settlement of their dispute might be the most desired outcome, an impasse does not mean that the parties have failed. If parties narrow the issues, understand the opposing side’s point of view, or simply have an opportunity to be heard, it will be successful for the parties in the long run.

* * *

Mia Levi (mlevi@cpradr.org) is the Vice President of Global Development for Dispute Resolution Services of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR).

* * *

This post is © 2022. Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 11, Number 9, April 2022, by the American Bar Association. (Available here.) Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

[END]

Update: An Influx of Arbitration Legislation

By Tamia Sutherland

The passage and March 3 signing of H.R. 4445, Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 has inspired the introduction of more than 170 bills involving arbitration.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R., S.C., called H.R. 4445 the most significant workplace reform since the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, and said he is open to further arbitration law changes, on a bipartisan basis. Lindsay Wise and Jess Bravin, Senate Approves Bill Barring Forced Arbitration in Sexual-Assault, Harassment Claims, Wall Street Journal (Feb. 10)(available at https://on.wsj.com/38tmR3Q).

Of the current arbitration-related proposals, there are some duplicates with House and Senate introductions. Still, many facets of arbitration, in and out of government, are covered by the bills.

Activity on some is possible this year.

* * *

In an April 6 Securities Arbitration Alert blog post, George Friedman, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, discussed Congress and the rise in arbitration legislation:

The recent pace of legislative activity prompted us to look up how many bills have been introduced in the 117th Congress that in some way, shape, or form, refer to arbitration.

search we conducted using the non-partisan www.govtrack.us Website shows that 171 bills have been introduced so far that contain the term “arbitration” or “arbitrate” – 106 in the House and 65 in the Senate.

Not all bills are anti-arbitration, although the majority would amend the Federal Arbitration Act, other federal laws, or both, to curb pre-dispute arbitration agreement use. Democrats introduced all but four bills.

The Securities Arbitration Alert post can be found here.

A few days after the passage of H.R. 4445, the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a March 8 hearing on arbitration’s effects on consumers’ financial services contracts. The purpose was to introduce another arbitration bill.

Chairman Sherrod Brown, D., Ohio, presided over the hearing, and in his opening statement said that:

Big companies should not decide on behalf of Americans how they should pursue justice. Consumers–not corporations–should be able to decide whether they want to go through the public court system, through mediation, or through arbitration. . . . That’s why I introduced the Arbitration Fairness for Consumers Act last week with 21 cosponsors in the Senate, many of whom serve on this Committee.”

The Arbitration Fairness for Consumers Act would prohibit arbitration clauses in consumer financial products by amending the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010. Chairman Brown explained that the bill “gives consumers the right to decide how they want to pursue justice.” Brown’s website lists this press release and one-pager regarding the bill.

Following the opening statement, Ranking Member Patrick J. Toomey, R., Pa., provided background on Congressional attempts at arbitration restrictions in consumers’ financial services contracts:

In 2017, the CFPB issued a rule that would’ve banned these agreements for consumer financial products. However, Congress overturned this rule under the Congressional Review Act. Since then, Democrats have introduced bills that would undo Congress’ sensible decision.

Then, witnesses representing consumer interest groups Public Justice and Public Citizen, and the business-backed U.S. Chamber of Commerce, provided opposing testimony regarding the regulation of arbitration clauses in consumers’ financial services contracts.

In addition, law professors Todd J. Zywicki and Myriam Gilles from, respectively, Arlington, Va.’s George Mason University Antonin Scalia School of Law and Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York also provided expert testimony, with Zywicki anti-legislation and Gilles strongly supporting the proposal.

A video of the March 8 hearing and the witness statements are available here. Since its introduction, no further action has occurred on the Arbitration Fairness for Consumers Act.

There’s more. The Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act of 2022, a broad bill that would void all pre-dispute mandatory arbitration agreements in employment, antitrust, consumer, and civil rights passed the House by a 222-209 vote on March 17. That vote’s margin is much narrower than the 335-97 vote the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act received in the House in February.

The FAIR Act passed the House despite strong opposition. Two reports from the Institute for Legal Reform, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce unit that lobbies for tort reform on behalf of businesses and has long opposed arbitration restrictions, concluded that consumers and workers typically do better in arbitration. A November 2020 Institute for Legal Reform report is available here, updated from 2019, and an even more recent November 2021 update is available here.

Consumer organizations, on the other hand, were elated. Following the FAIR Act’s passage Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, noted:

“…Today, in an important step forward, the House passed the FAIR Act, a measure that would end the tricks and traps that are endemic in form contracts, including those you enter by clicking ‘I agree’ on the internet.

Hundreds of millions of contracts contain forced arbitration provisions and class-action waivers, denying consumers and workers the ability to file lawsuits in court and preventing them from joining with other similarly situated people to sue together…Today, the House finally stated: No more.”

Gilbert’s full statement is available here.

The FAIR Act was introduced by longtime mandatory arbitration opponent Hank Johnson, D., Ga., who has introduced this legislation in the past. For a discussion of the act’s September 2019 House passage–it later stalled in the Senate–and the controversy over the Institute for Legal Reform’s original 2019 arbitration report, is available at Andrew Garcia, The Fairness Agenda: Arbitration Legislation Advances in the Wake of a Critical Report , 37 Alternatives 157 (November 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/3LSoG93).

The House Committee on the Judiciary published this press release following last month’s passage of the FAIR act.  There has been no action yet on the Senate version, which is before the Judiciary Committee.

* * *

Other arbitration bills have attracted attention, and could gain traction in the wake of H.R. 4445’s passage and signing.  They include:

  • The Justice for Servicemembers Act,
  • Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act, and
  • The Investor Choice Act.

The Justice for Servicemembers Act aims to amend Title 9 of the U.S. Code—the Federal Arbitration Act—to prohibit pre-dispute agreements that require arbitration of certain disputes arising from claims of servicemembers and veterans.  The disputes are claims brought under chapter 43 of U.S.C. Title 38 relating to employment and reemployment rights of members of the uniformed services, and under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (50 U.S.C. 3901–4043).

The Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act was introduced to amend titles XVIII and XIX of the Social Security Act “to prohibit skilled nursing facilities and nursing facilities from using pre-dispute arbitration agreements with respect to residents of those facilities under the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and for other purposes.”

The Investor Choice Act attempts to amend the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to prohibit mandatory pre-dispute arbitration in investment adviser agreements.

Also, H.R. 5974, the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act, was introduced in both the House and Senate to amend the Truth in Lending Act to extend to all consumers the consumer credit protections provided to U.S. Armed Forces members and their dependents under title 10 of the U.S. Code. The bill garnered a joint letter in support signed by 188 civil rights, community, consumer, faith, housing, labor, legal services, senior rights, small business, veterans’ organizations, and academics representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Some of the signatories include Main Street Alliance, Minority Veterans of America, the NAACP, National Fair Housing Alliance, and Public Citizen. The joint letter is available at the website of Public Justice, a Washington nonprofit law consumer- and employee-side law firm, here.

Many of these proposals are riding H.R. 4445’s coattails and have the potential to be framed as an extension of the bill ahead of the midterm elections.

For more background information on H.R. 4445, and how it restricts arbitration use for certain employment matters, see Tamia Sutherland & Russ Bleemer, Senate Sends Bill Restricting Arbitration for Workplace Sexual Assault Victims for Biden’s Signature, CPR Speaks (Feb. 10) (available here).

* * *

The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021-22 intern.

[END]

#CPRAM22: Corporate Counsel Roundtable–Leveraging Technology to Prevent Disputes

By Janice L. Sperow

Unlike many other alternative dispute providers that focus exclusively on conflict resolution outside the courtroom, the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR) also places a high premium on dispute prevention.

That’s right–curtailing an emerging issue before it becomes a full-blown legal dispute in the first place. CPR has challenged the corporate world to commit to dispute prevention by signing CPR’s Dispute Prevention Pledge for Business Relationships.

Business disputes impose enormous costs in loss of mission, business, focus, revenue, and relationships. Consequently, today’s savvy leaders understand the need to use every tool possible to prevent them–including increasingly available, sophisticated technology.

Four corporate leaders shared how they leverage technology to prevent business disputes at this year’s CPR Annual Meeting. Corporate counsel in-house thought-leaders joined this article’s author, CPR neutral Janice Sperow, La Mesa, Calif.’s Sperow ADR Services. who moderated a March 2 #CPRAM22 discussion on the role of technology in preventing disputes.

The panel explored data transformation’s accelerating role in avoiding litigation, securing compliance, and minimizing risk across a wide range of industries, sectors, and markets. From “big data,” software development, and retail sales, to aerospace and defense, these experts explained how they navigate the benefits and challenges of today’s technology and tomorrow’s automation.  

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The corporate counsel panelists included leaders in their fields: Amy Yeung, General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer for Lotame Solutions Inc., a Columbia, Md., data collection and management consulting firm; Nick Barnaby, Staff Vice President and Associate General Counsel at aerospace defense contractor General Dynamics Corp. in Reston, Va.; Chris Nelson, head of the Data & Operations Team for Microsoft Corp.’s Compliance & Ethics organization in Redmond, Wash., and Kenneth Oh, Vice President of Privacy for Bath & Body Works, headquartered in Reynoldsburg, Ohio..

Before Lotame, Amy Yeung started her career the conventional way, in law firm practice. She soon went in-house, joining Zenimax Media Inc., a Rockville, Md.-based global video game publisher, as  Associate General Counsel. She then moved to New York-based artificial intelligence platform Dataminr. Continuing to build on her successes, she became Deputy General Counsel at Comscore Inc., in Reston, Va., where she was integral in evolving the company to compliance with new and prospective privacy regulations, in addition to  launching Comscore products. 

Like Amy, Chris Nelson is no stranger to big data. His Microsoft position has primary responsibility for workplace- and business-conduct.  The Data & Operations Team (DOT), brings together data analysts, program managers, and legal professionals to design and operate solutions that increase the effectiveness of investigations, translate learnings into data-driven insights, and build predictive models and analytics that help the company mitigate emerging compliance risks. Chris is also a core member of Microsoft’s Anti-Corruption Technology & Solutions program, a 10-year effort to “bend the curve” of corruption by delivering expertise and anticorruption technology to governments. Chris worked as Microsoft corporate counsel before taking over DOT.

Protecting new technology, Kenneth Oh is a privacy and intellectual property attorney with more than 25 years of experience. He is a former Trademark Examiner with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and was of counsel with Washington, D.C.’s Baker & Hostetler, where he advised clients on intellectual property issues, litigated cases, and appeared before the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. He served as Associate General Counsel at Bentonville, Ark.’s Walmart Inc., and Assistant Vice President, Privacy and IP Corporate Counsel with Miami-based TracFone Wireless Inc. before becoming the Assistant Vice President, Privacy at Bath & Body Works Inc.

Handling large government and other contracts, Nick Barnaby is General Dynamics’ Staff Vice President and Associate General Counsel, where he advises on many of the company’s most significant litigation and disputes.  Nick works on identifying and avoiding potential risks and disputes. Prior to joining General Dynamics, Nick was a partner at Jenner & Block, focusing on internal investigations and commercial litigation.

Moderator Janice Sperow is a full-time neutral, CPR arbitrator and mediator, hearing officer, special master, and Judge Pro Tem who serves on several arbitration panels, including emerging technology, complex commercial, and employment disputes. Formerly a litigator with Morrison & Foerster and then Managing Partner and Head of Litigation & ADR at Ruiz & Sperow, Janice has served as an arbitrator for more than 35 years, overseen more than 450 arbitrations as an arbitrator, and conducted more than 1,000 arbitrations as counsel. Like CPR, she also focuses on dispute prevention.

Despite their differences, the panelists shared one key innovation: they are on the cutting edge in using technology to prevent disputes and mitigate risk.

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The Format: The moderator used a series of questions to launch the dialogue. Here is what the panelists shared with CPR at its annual meeting.

Question: Share with us how your company currently uses technology to prevent disputes and avoid risks.

Chris: Microsoft aggressively uses technology inside the company to fuel its compliance programs and to drive a culture of accountability and business ownership of risk. One of the critical avenues Microsoft uses focuses on increasing the use of data and data fluency on the legal compliance side so that managers and risk owners can translate historically subjective descriptions of risk into objective quantifiable indicators of why a particular risk is trending high or low as compared to the rest of the world–all in the business language they understand and work with daily. It also paints a big picture of how the risk looks over time, its scope, magnitude, and current probability. 

Amy: Lotame pulls together a lot of big data sets for commercial advertising purposes, but many companies also use these same data sets to address risk. For example, insurance and financial companies use them to round out their own data for benchmarking, context, and discrimination avoidance. Prior companies, such as Dataminr, capture social media content for immediate use on the ground, such as in the Ukraine conflict, to protect employees and personnel at risk by feeding them real-time data. Other companies use the data for anticipatory prevention such as crafting policies or developing training to address predicted risks.

Kenneth: Bath & Body Works focuses on technology use to protect privacy. In today’s world, it would frankly not be possible to practice privacy law without technology, AI, and third-party vendor software that track data, systems, and populates necessary information fields. Technology reduces the risk of human error as the AI manipulates the data.

Nick: General Dynamics likes to use technology to address the root causes of disputes. Most disputes trace back to three sources or drivers: poor business partners, poor assumptions, or poor contractual terms. For example, technology-assisted due diligence of potential suppliers or partners can uncover more information quicker than a manual review. It may reveal information that can permit the parties to structure a deal which addresses that information directly before a problem arises, or even information that permits a company to choose not to partner with a particular entity.

Question: Dispute prevention looks both backward and forward. We hope to learn from past disputes and avoid repeating them.  We also hope to use data to predict potential future problems and avoid them. How has your company used technology both to prevent repeat problems and to avoid future risks?

Chris: Microsoft has been on a multi-year journey to learn how to capture lessons from disputes, workplace investigations, and corruption cases to then try to hone them into a compass that can help point in the direction of likely problems in other places to ideally avoid them, since most risks are serial in nature. Microsoft then feeds those lessons back to the management teams to implement and thereby can avoid a whistleblower case, for example, before it happens. While Microsoft understands that reactive capabilities are critical and therefore it has hotlines, complaint, and ethical issue avenues for problems requiring immediate redress, its focus also includes a proactive approach, for if we do not proactively apply what we learned, then we have as a society have learned nothing. Reactive posturing is a long-term losing proposition.

Amy: Post-mortems are critical on all levels: individual, enterprise, strategic. Plus, the data sets can serve as an independent check to confirm that the company is on the right track. The data become a movable white board to hold us all accountable and to avoid repeating mistakes because we all share in the lessons learned based upon the data.

Question: What are some of the most underused technologies in the corporate world today? Technology that could really help prevent disputes and risk but that we are simply not taking full advantage of?

Nick: Data currently used for business purposes could often be leveraged to mitigate risk if seen through that lens. For example, a budding contract dispute in a long-term contract can often mask a bigger underlying issue, such as a failure to meet a contractual obligation. If we used the information we collect in the aggregate for business purposes for prevention purposes, we could often address concerns before they ripen into full-blown disputes. General Dynamics, and likely many other companies, could use the information they already capture for business uses and repurpose it for risk-management purposes and to escalate the issue more quickly to higher-level decisionmakers before it blossoms into litigation.

Ken: Technology tools work exceptionally well for version- and document control. [Version control tracks systemic changes in software engineering.] We actually have many tools right now that we do not fully understand and use to their maximum capabilities.

Chris: The type of tool most needed and underused depends on the type of risk. For example, for financial risks, data architecture and structure are key. At the executive level, if the company is deciding where to deploy personnel to manage risk, then visualization and constant monitoring are essential.

Question: Greater technology use certainly achieves greater benefits. But it also comes with its own challenges. What are some of the issues you have faced with increased reliance on technology and how have you navigated them?

Amy: The greater the footprint grows, the more resources the company needs to devote to it. For example, most companies adopted email without pre-planning or thought. Now, emails frequently represent litigation fodder. Well, many companies are not currently thinking of today’s email equivalent–the data and technology we are using or adopting today and how it will be used in disputes down the road. Thus, one of the key challenges both at the enterprise and commercial level is the thoughtful planned and integrated structure for technology use at your company. Earlier architecture and ongoing monitoring of data uses can create a much more seamless integration of technology and avoid some types of risk before they occur.

Nick: General Dynamics very deeply values transparency and trust. So, one of the challenges we face in any adoption of new technology is managing the culture around its implementation, requiring us to focus on alignment and trust so employees understand the purpose, need, and benefit of the technology. General Dynamics empowers employees to use and adopt the technology themselves rather than imposing it on them.

Question: How does data ethics fit in?

Amy: Awareness and enactment of data privacy regulations has definitely increased dramatically. Consumers are also becoming more conscious of the varying uses of their data. We data professionals are really looking at the ethics involved in data use and taking responsibility. We do a gut check: Are our assumptions correct? Did we start with the right questions to begin with? Is this the right thing to do?

Question: What has really been worth it in terms of return on investment? If you had to choose one technology that has most impacted your company’s bottom line in terms of dispute and risk cost savings, what would it be?

Kenneth: Privacy software. Frankly, it would subject the company to statutory liability and damages not to properly monitor the use and privacy of customer data with available technology.

Chris: Microsoft uses its own really deep stack of technological tools. In addition, Microsoft spends on securing rich, valuable data sources, especially when working with governments. We also spend on data fluency, making sure we have the personnel who can bridge the risk managers to the backend data.

Nick: Technology limiting and eliminating the environmental impact of our operations. Investing in remedial technology beyond legal requirements to reduce any lingering liability from past environmental issues that occurred before people understood the environmental impact of the chemicals and materials used.

Question: How has data automation affected your own department? Has it helped prevent disputes and minimize risk?

Ken: Access to data quickly has allowed us to prevent disputes.

Chris: Data transformed the de-escalation of the energy after an investigation or dispute. After a dispute, the stakeholders meet and determine the critical failure points. At the end of the meeting, they are energized to avoid the same problems in the future. But a manual audit approach does not have a good return on investment and tends to deenergize the good intentions and follow up. Data has transformed that phenomenon. Now, people have data and a model showing where to look next for the problem to surface and to avoid it, rather than anecdotal memories. Vertically integrating the process to avoid waiting to get answers and analytics in the middle of the process has really helped as well.

Nick: Technology has helped us diagnose legal spend and determine patterns with data analysis rather than an old-school subjective review of legal bills.

Question: Predictions–Experts predict that we will see more technological advances in the next decade than we did in the past century. Given our world’s accelerated data transformation, what area do you predict will see the greatest advancements in dispute prevention over the next five years?

Kenneth: AI.

Nick: A more-hope-than-a-prediction that conscientious folks will use technology for good purposes, such as preventing disputes, and not just to gain an advantage.

Amy: Consolidation and integration of technology uses and functions.

Chris: Natural language processing.

Moderator: Personalized and genetics-based healthcare.

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Key Themes & Takeaways:

  • With greater technological advancement, comes greater responsibility.
  • Use technology in a language business managers understand to achieve common goals.
  • Real-time data allow on-the-ground, in-the-moment decision-making to mitigate immediate risks, such as supply-chain blockage due to extreme weather or civil unrest.
  • Keeping knowledgeable and current on developing technology allows companies and individuals to pivot nearly instantaneously to new business opportunities.
  • Technology-assisted due diligence can more easily permit companies to partner and align themselves with others that share their goals and values.
  • Capturing data over time illustrates the serial risks companies face, their pattern, and where they are likely to surface next.
  • Technology allows society to turn its past lessons more easily into future remedies.
  • Repurpose and leverage data already captured and monetized for business uses to prevent disputes.
  • Understand and use all the features of your technology.
  • The nature of the risk will often dictate the best technological tool to prevent it.
  • Data ethics must be a conscious part of all technology use.
  • Ultimately, technology is only as good as the uses to which we, as humans, put it.

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Take the Pledge:

If you agree that dispute prevention should play a vital role in our economy and society but are not sure where to begin, start by taking the CPR Dispute Prevention Pledge for Business Relationships. If you would like to become more active in dispute prevention, join CPR’s Dispute Prevention Committee, or if the intersection with technology sparks your interest, join CPR’s Technology Advisory Committee. Contact CPR Senior Vice-President Ellen Parker at eparker@cpradr.org. For other questions or information about this article or the roundtable, contact Janice Sperow at janicesperow@sperowadr.com

CPR members can access the roundtable video and other #CPRAM2022 sessions after signing in here.

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Author Janice Sperow is a full-time neutral, arbitrator, mediator, dispute prevention facilitator, and Hearing Officer specializing in mass claims, healthcare, technology, employment, and all commercial matters. She works on domestic and international matters at her La Mesa, Calif., firm, Sperow ADR Services. Her previous CPR Speaks article was “Increased Mobile Health Triggers Increased FTC Enforcement, and Points to a Need for Dispute Prevention Efforts,” CPR Speaks (Nov. 4, 2021) (available here).

[END]

Airbnb’s Clickwrap Agreement Prevails in Florida’s Top Court, Sending Hidden Camera Dispute to an Arbitrator

By Russ Bleemer

A highly anticipated Florida Supreme Court case on the effect of incorporating arbitration rules into a consumer contract was decided this morning in favor of the app provider, Airbnb, sending a decision about whether a case is arbitrated to an arbitrator, instead of a court.

Today’s opinion in Airbnb v. Doe, No. SC 20-1167, means that the inclusion of the American Arbitration Association rules, which are referenced in Airbnb’s “clickwrap” agreement—linked and behind the box that is checked before purchasing access to one of the company’s rental accommodations listings—are considered a part of the customer’s obligations under their contract with Airbnb.

The decision is posted on the Court’s website here.

The Florida case is important because the U.S. Supreme Court last year balked at addressing the incorporation question.  Today’s 6-1 opinion by Florida Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston notes that in endorsing the incorporation concept, it is following every U.S Circuit Court opinion on the subject.

The opinion reverses a detailed decision on the effects of clickwrap agreements and ambiguities in incorporating arbitration rules. The 2-1 Second Florida District Court of Appeals found the reference vague and not in line with Supreme Court caselaw that requires the reference to an arbitration rule to be clear and unmistakable. John Doe & Jane Doe v. Natt & Airbnb Inc., 299 So. 3d 599 (Fla. 2d DCA 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3BPYPcu).

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In June 2020, the nation’s top Court agreed to hear a case on the effect of a carve-out from arbitration in a sales contract between two medical devices companies.  At the same time, the Court denied a separate cross-petition in the same case on challenging the determination of arbitrability of the case on a question of incorporation by reference of AAA rules.

When the December 2020 argument in Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., No. 19-963, was held, the Court got stuck, repeatedly, on the incorporation by reference point.  It appeared that the effect of the delegation of the arbitrability question—whether the incorporation of the rules was effective to put the decision of arbitrability, as well as the decision about the carve-out, in the arbitrator’s hands–depended on an analysis of whether that delegation was “clear and unmistakable,” the issue the Court had rejected.

A month later, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case as improvidently granted. See Russ Bleemer, “Scotus’s Henry Schein No-Decision,” CPR Speaks (Jan. 25) (available here).

So this morning’s Florida Supreme Court decision will be seen as a reaffirmation of what many drafters consider standard drafting practice in incorporating a set of rules into their arbitration contracts–though after the Florida Second District fairness opinion associated with the app and the delegation, drafters likely will proceed with heightened awareness that the arbitrability provisions will be a potential target for parties who don’t want to arbitrate. Today’s case provides guidance for the U.S. Supreme Court’s “clear and unmistakable” arbitration delegation requirement.

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Justice Polston signaled his strong support of the effectiveness of Airbnb’s contractual incorporation by reference of the AAA rules at the Nov. 2 oral arguments in the case.  See Arjan Bir Singh Sodhi, “Florida’s Top Court Takes on ‘Who Decides?’ in Airbnb Arbitration Case,” CPR Speaks (Nov. 5) (available here).

Today, he followed up with a majority opinion that eviscerated the state appeals court decision, relying instead on the reasoning in the dissent by Florida Second District Court of Appeal Judge Craig C. Villanti. (See appeals court opinion link above.)  “Here,” Polston wrote, “Airbnb and the Does clearly and unmistakably agreed that an arbitrator decides questions of arbitrability.”  He continued:

Airbnb’s Terms of Service explicitly incorporate by reference the AAA Rules: “The arbitration will be administered by the American Arbitration Association (‘AAA’) in accordance with the Commercial Arbitration Rules and the Supplementary Procedures for Consumer Related Disputes (the ‘AAA Rules’) then in effect.” The Terms of Service also provide a hyperlink to the AAA Rules and a phone number for the AAA. Further, the incorporated AAA Rules specifically provide that “[t]he arbitrator shall have the power to rule on his or her own jurisdiction, including any objections with respect to the existence, scope, or validity of the arbitration agreement or to the arbitrability of any claim or counterclaim.” (Emphasis added.) The Terms of Service incorporate the AAA Rules, and the express language in the AAA Rules empowers the arbitrator to decide arbitrability. Accordingly, consistent with the persuasive and unanimous federal circuit court precedent, we conclude that incorporation by reference of the AAA Rules that expressly delegate arbitrability determinations to an arbitrator clearly and unmistakably evidences the parties’ intent to empower an arbitrator to resolve questions of arbitrability.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge LaBarga dissented. He wrote,

Because the arbitrability provisions relied upon by the majority to reach its decision in this case were buried within voluminous pages of rules and policies incorporated only by reference in a clickwrap agreement, the parties’ agreement to defer the consequential decision of arbitrability to the arbitrator was anything but clear and unmistakable.

Agreeing with and quoting heavily from the now-quashed appeals court decision, LaBarga wrote, “Unsuspecting consumers should not be expected to find the proverbial needle in the haystack in order to make a clear and unmistakable decision about arbitrability—that choice should be conspicuously located in the clickwrap agreement for the consumer to consider.

The case began when an anonymous Texas couple filed a complaint against Airbnb and the condominium owner who had listed the Florida property on the Airbnb platform. The complaint included intrusion against the condominium owner, and constructive intrusion against Airbnb, as well as loss of consortium against both the condominium owner and Airbnb. The plaintiffs had rented the condominium for three days in May 2016 from the Airbnb website, and later learned that the owner had installed hidden cameras and recorded the couple without their knowledge.

The plaintiffs filed their complaint in the Manatee County, Fla., circuit court. Airbnb moved to compel to settle the dispute through an arbitration proceeding. Airbnb claimed that the Does are bound to an arbitration proceeding under the signed terms and conditions when they accepted the app’s clickwrap agreement—that is, the legal contract in the Airbnb online software in which the customer indicates acceptance by typing in yes, or selecting a particular icon or link before they may use the service.

Today, the Florida Supreme sent the decision on how their case will proceed to an AAA arbitrator.

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The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for CPR at altnewsletter.com.

[END]

Supreme Court Rejects Federal FAA Jurisdiction for Arbitration Award Enforcement and Challenges

By Russ Bleemer & Andrew Ling

The Supreme Court embraced a narrow construction of subject-matter jurisdiction in arbitration matters today, reversing a Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that a federal trial court had jurisdiction under Sections 9 and 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act to confirm and overturn arbitration awards.

Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143 (today’s decision available here), means that award enforcement processes and efforts to overturn tribunal decisions will continue to be directed state courts as a matter of state contractual law. In other words, FAA Sections 9 and 10 jurisdiction is in state court, and the “look through” federal court jurisdiction analysis steps accorded to FAA Sec. 4–which provides federal courts jurisdiction on getting parties into arbitration–will not apply.

The Fifth Circuit had said that federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to confirm or vacate an arbitration award under FAA Sections 9 and 10 when the underlying dispute was on a federal question.  The opinion, now reversed, was based on Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U. S. 49 (2009) (available at https://bit.ly/3Ca42MA), where the Supreme Court assessed whether there was a jurisdictional basis to decide an FAA Section 4 petition to compel arbitration.

Today’s decision on the arcane subject of jurisdiction clarifies Vaden‘s application with a textual analysis on how FAA Sec. 4 differs from Sections 9 and 10.

The decision comes amidst an unprecedented time for arbitration at the Court. While Court watchers’ eyes have been on the confirmation process for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to succeed retiring Justice Stephen G. Breyer, over the past 10 days, the Court has heard four oral arguments covering five arbitration cases.  Highlights of the cases can be found on CPR Speaks, here. The March arbitration cases are expected to be decided before the current Supreme Court term ends in June.

This morning’s 8-1 decision, written by Justice Elena Kagan, declines to extend Vaden to the FAA’s award enforcement and challenge sections. It states, “The question presented here is whether that same ‘look-through’ approach to jurisdiction applies to requests to confirm or vacate arbitral awards under the FAA’s Sections 9 and 10. We hold it does not. Those sections lack Section 4’s distinctive language directing a look-through, on which Vaden rested. Without that statutory instruction, a court may look only to the application actually submitted to it in assessing its jurisdiction.”

Badgerow involves a FINRA arbitration brought by Louisiana petitioner Denise Badgerow, a financial adviser, against the principals of her former employer, REJ Properties Inc. She maintains she was harassed on the job, and filed a complaint with FINRA claiming her employer and its principals violated federal securities laws, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, and the rules of FINRA, which regulates the actions of broker-dealers.

After losing the arbitration, Badgerow brought a new claim in a Louisiana state court to vacate the FINRA award that dismissed her complaints. The principals removed the case to Louisiana Eastern U.S. District Court, and both the District Court and the Fifth Circuit upheld federal jurisdiction. REJ Properties and its parent, Ameriprise Financial Inc., an NYSE-traded financial services company, were not part of the state court claim nor today’s Supreme Court decision.

The decision this morning is surprising in light of the Nov. 2 oral arguments. Badgerow’s attorney, Daniel L. Geyser, a Dallas partner in Haynes and Boone, faced strong skepticism from the Court on why the sections on enforcing and overturning awards should be treated differently for federal jurisdictional purposes than the earlier section on compelling parties into arbitration.  See CPR Speaks coverage here.

But the Court today accepted Geyser’s argument that the Sec. 4 language, which specifically says that parties seeking to compel arbitration proceed in federal court, isn’t present for the award enforcement and challenges of the statute’s later sections. “We have no warrant to redline the FAA, importing Section
4’s consequential language into provisions containing nothing like it,” wrote Kagan, adding, “Congress could have replicated Section 4’s look-through instruction in Sections 9 and 10.”

In an email, Geyser writes, “We’re very grateful for the win, and delighted for our client.  We think the Court’s opinion is an important contribution in clarifying the jurisdiction rules for everyday filings under the FAA.”

Walters’ attorney, Washington, D.C.-based Williams & Connolly partner Lisa Blatt, did not immediately reply to an email request for comment.

The opinion concludes noting that “Congress chose to respect the capacity of state courts to properly enforce arbitral awards. In our turn, we must respect that evident congressional choice.”

The Court used the opinion to resolve a circuit split and clarify that the “look through” test needs textual support in the FAA. Under Vaden, a federal court should “look through” the Federal Arbitration Act claims to the “substantive controversy” to determine if they could have been brought in federal court for disputes under Section 4.

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Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s 13-page dissent said that the divergent jurisdiction tests for the different Federal Arbitration Act sections was confusing. “Although this result may be consistent with the statute’s text,” he wrote, “it creates what Vaden feared—curious consequences and artificial distinctions.  . . . It also creates what I fear will be consequences that are overly complex and impractical.”

Instead, Breyer writes that he would use the Vaden look-through approach “to determine jurisdiction under each of the FAA’s related provisions—Sections 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, and 11.”

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For more on the procedural history of the case, see Bryanna Rainwater & Russ Bleemer, “Next at the Supreme Court: Badgerow’s Attempt to Reevaluate FAA Jurisdiction,” CPR Speaks (September 15) (available here).

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Bleemer edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for CPR at altnewsletter.com. Ling, a third-year law student at the University of Texas School of Law, in Austin, Texas, is a CPR 2022 Spring Intern.

[END]

Adding a Claim, and Avoiding Arbitration:  The Supreme Court Reviews California’s Private Attorneys General Act

By Russ Bleemer

The U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday examined California’s law allowing individuals to stand in for the state and file suits on behalf of coworkers against their employers even when they have arbitration obligations in the employment contracts.

California’s Private Attorneys General Act unquestionably has affected individualized arbitration processes under the Federal Arbitration Act, as a result of the California Supreme Case of Iskanian v. CLS Transp. Los Angeles LLC, 327 P.3d 129 (Cal. 2014) (available at https://stanford.io/3ILcTY5), which authorizes California employees to avoid mandatory arbitration employment contracts requirements by filing representative suits under the PAGA law.  The Court had held that PAGA was not preempted by the FAA.

Employers have said that tens of thousands of suits have been filed under PAGA by employees with arbitration contracts.

That’s not a good look for a Supreme Court which has struck other laws interfering with the FAA, and was a problem this morning for the Court.  The history of the cases that authorized mandatory individualized arbitration with waivers of class actions–AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 (2011) (available at http://bit.ly/2VcI4mi), and the case that extended the authorization to employment cases that followed, Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 138 S.Ct. 1612 (2018) (available at http://bit.ly/2Y66dwK)–loomed over the arguments.  

California employers want to halt the law being used as an end-run around their workplace dispute programs, which has been used to force them into class processes they seek to avoid with mandatory arbitration dispute resolution procedures. Employment attorneys and consumer advocates have countered that PAGA is a crucial state law that allows people to vindicate their employment rights.

The Court wasn’t called upon to remove the PAGA law today. But there also likely won’t be a compelling reason to keep PAGA claims out of arbitration, or at least, allow the possibility, even though the agreement at issue barred them entirely. Ultimately, the decision will focus on the Court’s Concepcion and Epic Systems arbitration-supportive history.

As a result, in Viking River Cruises v. Moriana, No. 20-1573, the advocates and the Court wrestled with the nature of the PAGA claim—as a procedural move that allows for a different legal claim or claims, or a substantive right under state law.

The Concepcion and Epic Systems cases divided the Court 5-4. It’s a different Court today, with wider ideological lines, but the Court’s three liberal justices are still inclined to back class processes. The justices who were in opposition in Concepcion and Epic Systems—Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—were most animated today.  They provided the toughest questions to Viking River’s Paul D. Clement, a former U.S. Solicitor General and a partner in the Washington office of Kirkland & Ellis, asking him to justify how the Court can police the laws California provides to its residents for use in vindicating their rights.

The Court’s conservatives mostly took a backseat this morning.

Clement, arguing in the nation’s top Court for the second time in nine days in an arbitration case (details on the previous case on CPR Speaks here), conceded that the state had properly installed the PAGA law, but also insisted that Concepcion had been violated.  He said the law violations that were the basis of original plaintiff Angie Moriana’s claims would have been easily addressed by an arbitrator, even with an award going to the state under PAGA.  But forcing the PAGA claim into courts opens up a flood of claims on behalf of many potential workplace plaintiffs without the guidance of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23’s protections for defendants.

Moriana’s lawyer, Scott Nelson, an attorney at Washington, D.C.’s Public Citizen Litigation Group, faced challenges on the FAA end-run by PAGA users by telling the Court that his client’s objection was to Viking River arbitration provisions that explicitly required waiving PAGA claims altogether. Nothing in the FAA, he said, requires the enforcement of such an agreement.

* * *

Paul Clement in his petitioner’s argument faced an immediate challenge from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who said that respondent Moriana wasn’t acting for herself, but as a delegee of the California Attorney General, securing a recovery for the state and her fellow employees. Clement responded that the setting the chief justice described wasn’t “the critical feature of PAGA.” He objected to Moriana bringing the PAGA claim on the part of the Viking River sales force as a whole, later explaining that the law’s use contravened the customary nature of arbitration as an individualized process.

Justice Elena Kagan interrupted, and confronted Clement with an objection echoed by her fellow liberal justices. The state, said Kagan, has determined that it needed law for policing that it did not have the capacity to do on its own.  “So this is a state decision to enforce its own labor laws in a particular kind of way that the state has decided is the only way to adequately do it,” she said.

Clement agreed: “At the end of the day, that’s right,” he said. But he insisted that Concepcion set the path for parties to agree to arbitrate such disputes, and the state must conform to the Court’s decision.

Kagan asked whether he thought there would have been views when the FAA was passed in 1925 that the then-new law would preclude the state from structuring its own law enforcement for its labor laws. Clement conceded it was an interesting question what sort of class actions could have been foreseen, but he said, “[C]ertainly, if we take Concepcion and Epic [Systems and Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407 (2019) (available at http://bit.ly/2GxwFbC)] as a given, and nobody has asked [the Court] to overrule those cases here. . . This Court said that state policy had to yield. I don’t think the state policy here is any more sacrosanct.”

Clement also noted for the first of repeated mentions that the California law is an outlier. While other states have considered the California law, he said its form is unique, and Clement emphasized that no other states joined in support of California as an amicus. (For details on the 22 amicus filers, as well as case background, see yesterday’s CPR Speaks preview of the argument, here.)

Clement lamented PAGA’s similarity to class actions on two points in particular, the potential dollar amounts that the claims put before the defendants, and the burdensome class discovery. Given the high stakes and the discovery, he said, “if I’m a defendant and you’re telling me I can’t escape this kind of aggregate litigation, . . . then I’m going to pick litigation every time, because I get lots of additional judicial review”  and remedies, and the result means that “arbitration is going to whither on the vine.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor disputed Clement’s characterization of arbitration claim handling, noting that arbitration historically has handled complex cases, and the Court has backed its use in cases involving racketeering, antitrust and disparate impact claims. She said it’s parties that choose whether to have arbitration class actions, not the Court.

Clement countered that the key question, as raised by Justice Kagan, wasn’t complexity but it was the operation of the PAGA statute as the mechanism providing a cause of action and specifying penalties under it. He said that the FAA doesn’t preempt the statute itself, but the arbitration right under the contract has been cut off.  

Sotomayor pointedly stated that the goal was destroying the state’s mechanism for enforcing labor law violations, and Clement pushed back and said that the plaintiff’s claims could be brought in arbitration. He later noted that the critical part wasn’t calling PAGA a state claim, nor the classification of the claim as a substantive or procedural right, but the fact that the state claim let in many claims that are not customary in bilateral arbitration.

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Public Citizen’s Scott Nelson said in response to the chief justice that the multiple claims of his client, respondent Angie Moriana, could be arbitrated as to her individual claims, and she could pursue others  on her own but under PAGA on behalf of the state and other workers.

He told Justice Amy Coney Barrett in response to a question that the most important part of his client’s claim wasn’t just that the PAGA claim belongs to California, but also that the FAA can’t override the right to pursue the claim that California has provided.

Nelson maintained that the PAGA action is not the kind of aggregated multiparty action on which the Court focused in Concepcion and Epic Systems, but rather the state’s right to civil penalties through its individual representatives. PAGA, he explained, can be brought by the state’s representative as an equally bilateral arbitration or litigation between the representative and the defendant.

The agreement waives Moriana’s right to pursue a statutory remedy, emphasized Nelson.  But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was skeptical, and said that under the arbitration agreement, “she doesn’t have a right to pursue a substantive claim in court, but she does have a right to pursue the substantive claim just in arbitration. I thought that was sort of at the core of our precedents.  . . . Arbitration gets at the remedy. ”

Nelson responded that “the substantive claim . . . is the claim to recover civil penalties for these violations which are available only via PAGA, and the arbitration agreement explicitly prohibits the assertion” of a PAGA claim and a representative claim.  He said that the California Labor Code claim could be pursued in arbitration, but not the PAGA claim for damages.

Justice Breyer pressed Nelson on whether the California rule had special implications for arbitration, and whether the PAGA case could be brought in court if the Supreme Court held PAGA targeted arbitration. Nelson responded that if the law “is inconsistent with the nature of arbitration, then that’s what creates a problem.  . . . [W]hat the state has said is for contracts, whether they are part of an arbitration agreement or not, you can’t waive the right to bring a PAGA claim in an employment agreement before the claim arises. So [it] applies to every kind of agreement.”  

Justice Brett Kavanaugh concluded Scott Nelson’s argument by asking him to react to Viking River attorney Paul Clement’s point that California is alone on having the PAGA law. “It’s certainly true that California is the only state that has this mechanism,” said Nelson, adding “It’s somewhat ironic that one of the arguments made in favor of this Court’s review was that if you let California do it, everyone will do it. Now California is the only state that wants to do it.”

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In his rebuttal, Kirkland & Ellis’s Clement said that the big problem with the law was that the representative could submit a claim on behalf of all of the employees “for all these disparate violations,” and in considering the scope of such an action, “then there is nothing left of Concepcion. ….. It’s too naked a circumvention.”

He re-emphasized his point about California’s outlier status in producing laws that are anti-arbitration. He noted that the substantive-procedural distinction can’t be used to avoid Concepcion/Epic Systems arbitration requirements.

Clement’s last point was on what he termed “practicalities.” He said that if respondent Moriana’s only claim was on timing of her final paycheck, “an arbitrator could dispatch that case in about an hour,” cutting her a check, and cutting a check for the state as well. But to do that in arbitration with many claims would require a claims administrator.  

Before Concepcion, he said, little attention was paid to the 2004 PAGA statute. Now, since Concepcion, Clement concluded, 17 PAGA complaints are being filed daily.

* * *

The official question presented to the Court today is

Whether the Federal Arbitration Act requires enforcement of a bilateral arbitration agreement providing that an employee cannot raise representative claims, including under PAGA.

A decision is expected before the current Court term concludes at the end of June. For more background on Viking River, see Mark Kantor, “US Supreme Court to Review Whether Private Attorney General Action Can Be Waived by an Arbitration Agreement,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 16) (available here).

Today’s case concludes a run of four U.S. Supreme Court arbitration cases in nine days. Previews and analysis of the cases can be found on this CPR Speaks blog using the search function in the upper right, and searching for “Supreme Court” and/or “arbitration.” An overview and an analysis of the 2021-2022 Supreme Court arbitration docket, including the cases argued over the past two weeks, can be found at Russ Bleemer, “The Supreme Court’s Six-Pack Is Set to Refine Arbitration Practice,” 40 Alternatives 17 (February 2022), and Imre Szalai, “Not Like Other Cases: SCOTUS’s Unique Arbitration Year,” 40 Alternatives 28 (February 2022), both available for free at https://bit.ly/3GDEJEK. Argument coverage is available on CPR Speaks, here.

The audio stream archive and the transcript of the March 30 Viking River Cruises argument can be found on the Supreme Court’s website here.

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The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation at altnewsletter.com for CPR.

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The Fight over Arbitration and Class-Action Access Returns to the Supreme Court Tomorrow on California’s PAGA Law

By Russ Bleemer

Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court oral argument in Viking River Cruises v. Moriana, No. 20-1573, will sort the relationship between the Federal Arbitration Act and California’s Private Attorneys General Act. The case concludes a Supreme Court run of five arbitration cases in four oral arguments over nine days.

The Court tomorrow will likely revisit its extensive history on federal preemption of state laws in deciding whether the state law will continue to allow individuals with arbitration agreements to file suits in courts.

The issue is crucial for California employers, which have argued that the law is used as an end-run around their workplace dispute programs that forces them into class processes they seek to avoid with mandatory arbitration dispute resolution procedures.

Employment attorneys and consumer advocates have countered that PAGA is an essential state law that allows people to vindicate their employment rights.

The result is a return to the nation’s top Court on the broad issue of arbitration fairness. The fight over whether the California representative-class PAGA cases may continue in the place of individual arbitration—business groups say there have been tens of thousands of such cases—is also an amicus battleground among the nation’s leading business and consumer advocacy groups.  The amicus participants include business and consumer groups that have faced off in Washington, D.C., and federal and state courts nationwide on arbitration fairness issues for decades.

There are 22 amicus briefs filed.  Friend of the Court briefs on behalf of business petitioner Viking River Cruises, which is trying to overturn the PAGA law, have been filed by the California New Car Dealers Association; the Washington Legal Foundation and Atlantic Legal Foundation, nonprofit public interest law firms focusing on free marker principles, both based in Washington; the Employers Group, a 126-year-old California-based industry organization; Uber Technologies Inc. and Postmates LLC; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, California Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center; the Retail Litigation Center Inc. and the National Retail Federation; the California Employment Law Council, a 29-year-old nonprofit that lobbies and advocates on behalf of employers; the Civil Justice Association of California, a 43-year-old tort reform organization; the Restaurant Law Center; and the California Business and Industrial Alliance, a five-year-old trade group of business executives and entrepreneurs formed specifically to fight the PAGA law.

Backing Angie Moriana, a sales representative for the cruise line who brought several wage claims against her employer, are consumer and employee association representatives including the National Academy of Arbitrators, a 75-year-old nonprofit professional organization; Steve Chow (who, according to his filing, is “a first-generation American who owns and operates three convenience stores in the San Francisco Bay Area” and who “writes in favor of [PAGA]. Mr. Chow cannot afford to require his few employees to arbitrate, and the [FAA] might not apply to his small business anyway.”); the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO); the California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. (a 56-year-old legal services organization) and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (a legal nonprofit that represents California immigrant farmworkers and others in class processes, including PAGA cases, in front of state agencies); a group of 10 civil procedure and arbitration law professors; the California Employment Lawyers’ Association, the National Employment Law Project, and the National Employment Lawyers’ Association, all nonprofit worker advocacy groups; Public Justice, a Washington nonprofit law firm and consumer advocacy group; the Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund (a 36-year-old Washington, D.C., nonprofit “dedicated to preserving effective anti-fraud legislation at the federal and state levels,” focusing on whistleblower statutes); the State of California (which in its statement of interest in the case notes, “In the State’s experience, PAGA is an important law enforcement tool enacted to address serious and widespread violations of the California Labor Code”); “Arbitration Scholar” Imre Stephen Szalai, a Loyola University New Orleans College of Law professor filing his own brief [Szalai recently wrote on the Court’s arbitration caseload for CPR Speaks’ publisher CPR’s monthly newsletter Alternatives; see link below]; Tracy Chen, “in Her Representative Proxy Capacity on Behalf of the State of California” (noting in her interest statement that she is “a proxy of the State of California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency . . .pursuant to PAGA” and a plaintiff in a securities industry class action case seeking employer reimbursement of investment adviser fees), and the American Association for Justice, the Washington-based trial lawyers’ professional organization.

The PAGA law enables an individual employee to seek a court judgment for breach of California labor laws as a “private attorney general” on behalf of the state of California.

The question presented to the Supreme Court is

Whether the Federal Arbitration Act requires enforcement of a bilateral arbitration agreement providing that an employee cannot raise representative claims, including under PAGA.

The controversial California Supreme Case of Iskanian v. CLS Transp. Los Angeles LLC, 327 P.3d 129 (Cal. 2014) (available at https://stanford.io/3ILcTY5), authorizes California employees to avoid mandatory arbitration employment contracts requirements by filing representatives suits under the PAGA law.  California’s top court held that PAGA was not preempted by the FAA.

As the Supreme Court itself points out in a prelude to the Viking River Cruises question presented, Iskanian has authorized Californians to avoid the Court’s ruling backing mandatory individualized arbitration in consumer cases in the seminal matter preceding Iskanian, AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 (2011) (available at http://bit.ly/2VcI4mi), and the case that extended the authorization to employment cases that followed, Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 138 S.Ct. 1612 (2018) (available at http://bit.ly/2Y66dwK).

For more background on Viking River, see Mark Kantor, “US Supreme Court to Review Whether Private Attorney General Action Can Be Waived by an Arbitration Agreement,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 16) (available here).

The audio stream of Wednesday’s argument will be available on the U.S. Supreme Court’s home page at 10 a.m. Eastern, here. Tomorrow afternoon, the Court will make available an archive of the stream and a transcript of the argument here.

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A preview and an analysis of the 2021-2022 Supreme Court arbitration docket, including the cases argued this week and last week, can be found at Russ Bleemer, “The Supreme Court’s Six-Pack Is Set to Refine Arbitration Practice,” 40 Alternatives 17 (February 2022), and Imre Szalai, “Not Like Other Cases: SCOTUS’s Unique Arbitration Year,” 40 Alternatives 28 (February 2022), both available for free at https://bit.ly/3GDEJEK. Argument coverage is available on CPR Speaks, here.

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The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation at altnewsletter.com for CPR.

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