Part I: How Workplace ADR Will Evolve Under the Biden Administration

By Antranik Chekemian

Anna Hershenberg, Vice President of Programs and Public Policy & Corporate Counsel, welcomed an online audience of nearly 200 attendees for the CPR Institute’s webinar “What Labor and Employment ADR Will Look Like Under a Biden Administration?” The Feb. 24 webinar was presented jointly by CPR’s Employment Disputes Committee and its Government & ADR Task Force.

This is the first of two CPR Speaks installments with highlights from the discussion.

Hershenberg shared background information for attendees who were new to CPR, and reviewed CPR activities. [Check out www.cpradr.org for future public and members-only events, including the March 25 program on Managing Conflict in the Workplace Remotely. For information on access and joining CPR, please visit CPR’s Membership webpage here.]

Hershenberg then turned the program over to Aaron Warshaw, a shareholder in the New York office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, who is chair of CPR’s Employment Disputes Committee. Warshaw described the Employment Disputes Committee as “made up of in-house employment counsel, management-side attorneys, employee-side attorneys, and neutrals. Throughout its long history, the committee … [has provided] a platform for all of the stakeholders to come together and explore ways to resolve disputes in employment matters,”.

Last year, the committee presented a panel discussion about COVID-19-related employment claims. (Video available here.) There was also a panel discussion on mass individual arbitration claims during last year’s CPR Annual Meeting in Florida.

Warshaw also noted that the committee is currently working on soon-to-be-released administered employment arbitration rules, and a workplace disputes programs. “There is also an active committee currently revising CPR’s Employment-Related Mass Claims Protocol,” he said.  The release of these projects will be announced at www.cpradr.org and on social media.

Warshaw then introduced the panel moderator, Arthur Pearlstein, who is Director of Arbitration for the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, a Washington, D.C.-based independent agency whose mission is to preserve and promote labor-management peace and cooperation. He also directs FMCS’s Office of Shared Neutrals and has previously served as the agency’s general counsel.

Pearlstein opened the conversation stating that “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris ran a campaign that reflected a closer alignment with organized labor than I think we’ve seen in a very long time.”

Pearlstein pointed out the remarks made by President Biden a week ahead of the CPR program, where the president called himself a “labor guy,” and referred to labor people as “the folks that brung me to the dance.” Pearlstein, however, noted that Biden “did hasten to add, ‘There’s no reason why it’s inconsistent with business-growing either.’”

Pearlstein further said that even though it had been just a month since the inauguration at the time of the panel discussion, already dramatic steps had been taken.  He cited the firing of the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel.

The president has also issued a number of executive orders and halted some regulations. “He definitely wants to be seen as a champion of worker rights,” said Pearlstein.

Pearlstein added that Biden backs “the most significant piece of labor legislation since perhaps Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, . . . the PRO Act, that would dramatically change the landscape in the labor relations world in a way that’s very favorable to unions.” See Mark Kantor, “House Passes ‘PRO’ Act, Which Includes Arbitration Restrictions,” CPR Speaks (March 10) (available at https://bit.ly/38u5w87).

Biden also supports the FAIR Act which, if passed, could end mandatory employment arbitration, said Pearlstein, adding that Covid-19 in the workplace and the rights of gig workers are also important administration considerations. See Mark Kantor, “House Reintroduces a Proposal to Restrict Arbitration at a ‘Justice Restored’ Hearing,” CPR Speaks (Feb. 12) (available at http://bit.ly/3rze7y1).

Pearlstein introduced the panelists.

  • Mark Gaston Pearce is a Visiting Professor and Executive Director of the Georgetown University Law Center Workers’ Rights Institute. Formerly a two-term board member and chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, Pearce previously taught at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
  • Kathryn Siegel is a shareholder in Littler Mendelsohn’s Chicago office, representing employers in matters of both employment law and labor relations before federal and state courts and federal agencies like the NLRB and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as state agencies.

Mark Kantor started off the conversation by focusing on two general areas:

a) the prospects for legislative change in the Congress for arbitration of employment and labor issues; and

b) the prospects for regulatory measures by independent or executive agencies in the absence of new legislation.

Kantor pointed out that the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act was reintroduced in the House and the Senate. The House Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on the matter on Feb. 11.

He noted that, in the previous Congress, the legislation passed the House of Representatives by a 225-186 vote–all Democrats plus two Republicans. When it reached the Senate, however, “it went nowhere,” he said. “Not surprising,” he said, under Republican control, “There were no hearings, there were no committee markups, no committee activity, and the FAIR Act certainly never reached the floor of the Senate.”

In the current Congress, however, he noted, “We can expect the FAIR Act to pass the House of Representatives again, and then go to the Senate. Matters in the Senate might be a little different than they were in the last Congress. We can . . . expect committee activity, hearings, possibly a markup, maybe getting the legislation to the floor of the Senate.”

He said that Senate floor challenges exist for the legislation, because substantive measures are subject to a filibuster. Overcoming a filibuster requires 60 votes.

He added that Republicans are united in their opposition to the FAIR Act as it currently stands. Moreover, trying to avoid the filibuster by altering Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster runs into the problem that there are at least two Democratic Senators who will oppose that: Sen. Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona. Therefore, he said, “overriding a filibuster seems highly unlikely.”

A way to avoid the filibuster is budget reconciliation, said Kantor, which is the route that was  taken for the Covid-19 stimulus legislation. He noted, however, that the FAIR Act’s anti-arbitration provisions are unlikely to fall within the scope of budget reconciliation. He further explained:

That means there are very few formal ways to avoid the filibuster. Some people have suggested that Vice President Harris might simply override a parliamentary ruling that the legislation is outside the scope of budget reconciliation. That is also not likely to go anywhere, because Senators Manchin and Sinema will not support that. Consequently, you don’t have 50 votes out of the Democrats and you’re certainly not going to get any Republican votes to reach the threshold to allow Vice President Harris to make that decision.

Kantor then noted that there could still be other prospects for passage:

  1. Appending the FAIR Act or other legislation to a “must pass” piece of legislation:  “That’s exactly how restrictions on arbitration for consumer finance and securities arbitration, and whistleblower protections, was passed as part of the Dodd-Frank Act [in 2010], which did get 60 votes in support, because it was ‘must pass’ legislation,” he said.

  2. Narrow legislation: Kantor noted that during the Feb. 11 hearing, “the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. [Ken Buck, a Republican] from Colorado, did signal an interest in supporting two narrow areas of restriction. One was for sexual harassment and racial discrimination, and the other was to override non-disclosure agreements for those two types of disputes.” Kantor added that Buck’s support sends a signal that Republicans on the Senate side also may be “open to focus targeted legislation, aiming at those two narrow areas.”

Kantor also pointed out that a provision in the National Defense Appropriations Act, which is renewed annually, “prohibits mandatory pre-dispute arbitration for sexual harassment and Title VII claims under procurement contracts in the national defense area and subcontracts for those procurements. That is not controversial in the national defense contracting community.”

But the bottom line here, he said, is that the filibuster will determine whether the FAIR Act or any of the other pieces of legislation like the PRO Act, which contain restrictions on pre-dispute arbitration for employment and labor, have a chance of Senate passage.

On regulatory measures, Kantor pointed out that the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis decision “set a very high barrier to utilizing preexisting general statutory authority for administrative agencies, independent, or executive agencies. It said that in order to prevail, the claim must show ‘clear and manifest’ intention to displace the Federal Arbitration Act.”

He continued: “Congress would be expected to have specifically addressed preexisting law, such as the Federal Arbitration Act. That meant ‘no’ for the [Fair Labor Standards Act], ‘no’ for the [National Labor Relations Act], and in subsequent court decisions, also ‘no’ for Title VII, [the Americans with Disabilities Act], [and the Age Discrimination in Employment] arguments.”

As a result, he added, one “can’t generally rely on pre-existing labor relations legislation to override mandatory pre-dispute arbitration agreements.” But Kantor provided two possible avenues agencies could explore in order to not run into an Epic Systems problem. He explained:

One is that you could avoid Epic Systems by focusing on the prohibition of class procedures, and prohibiting a prohibition of class procedures in any forum–that would be litigation and arbitration, and therefore would be nondiscriminatory. Indeed, the Epic Systems decision says, in essence, the Federal Arbitration Act sets up a nondiscrimination approach to whether or not other acts can be utilized to prevent arbitration. If it’s focused only on a fundamental attribute of arbitration, then there might be conflict preemption by the FAA. On the other hand, if it spreads more generally, there might not be.

The second avenue would be to look at nondisclosure agreements as Rep. Buck mentioned during the Feb. 11 hearing. Kantor added that the FAIR Act covers employment, civil rights, class action, antitrust legislation, and consumer disputes. If passed, it would also prohibit pre-dispute joint-action waivers of those disputes in any forum.

* * *

Mark Gaston Pearce’s highlights focused on what is to be expected from the National Labor Relations Board with the Biden Administration.

Pearce started off with a focus on the composition of the five-member NLRB. by pointing out that even though Biden is in office, the majority of the NLRB is still Republican appointees, and that this will not change until August 2021.

He then discussed some of the NLRB cases. “There is a lot to be undone by the Trump board since the Trump board did a whole lot of undoing itself,” he said. He explained: “Among those things that the Trump board did was weakening the election reforms that were made in 2015,” said Pearce.

He explained that the Trump board changed union election rules by providing employers an increased ability to challenge and litigate certain issues prior to the election, and increased the length of time between the filing of a petition and the election date. “They were mandating that there should be a certain minimum time period to pass before an election,” he said.

Moreover, the Trump Board “lengthened the time period for an employer to serve a voter list and lengthened the time period for which an election is to be held if there was going to be a challenge to the [NLRB] Regional Director’s decision,” he said. [Among other things, Regional Directors are empowered to administer union elections.  See the NLRB’s Organization and Functions, Sec. 203.1 (available at https://bit.ly/3ls48Ij.]

Pearce explained, “All of those provisions and a few more were struck by a [federal] district court judge once [they] went into effect. The basis for . . . striking . . . those provisions was that the board had determined that these actions were strictly procedural, and therefore under the . . . Administrative Procedure Act, they were not obliged to go through the full notice and comment requirements.” The district court decision, however, has been appealed and it is currently pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, he said.

Pearce added that it is unlikely a decision will be issued before a new majority is in place. He noted that “it’s very likely that a new majority will withdraw that appeal and those provisions of the new rule will never see the light of the day.”

Pearce said MV Transportation standards–from a 2019 NLRB decision on whether an employer’s unilateral action is permitted by a collective-bargaining agreement—will affect  arbitrators. In the case, he explained, the NLRB abandoned a standard requiring the employer to bargain over any material changes to a mandatory subject of bargaining unless the union gave a “clear and unmistakable waiver” of its right to bargain on the changes. The new standard is based on the “contract coverage.”

The “clear and unmistakable waiver” standard, Pearce explained, generally hindered an employer’s ability to make changes, so instead the board adopted the broader contract coverage standard for determining whether unionized employers’ unilateral change in terms and conditions of employment violated the National Labor Relations Act.

Pearce predicted that “MV Transportation will be revisited because the outgrowth . . . has been that unions, fearing that their position would be waived, are negotiating contracts with so many provisos or are likely to negotiate contracts with so many provisos in it that contract negotiations have become fairly untenable.”

He noted, however, that “with respect to arbitrators, there was always going to be an issue of whether or not, in fact, there is truly a contract coverage for the change that is being proposed,  and I don’t think parties are going to want to constantly go to arbitration over every little thing that they plan on doing.”

Pearce then discussed recent developments in the area of higher education. He noted that there was a proposed rule that graduate students not be considered as employees under the National Labor Relations Act. He added, however, that it was unlikely for that rule to be adopted as the majority will likely object to such status. He said he predicts that there is going to be an “increase in petitions filed for graduate student bargaining units in the universities.”

“On the other hand,” Pearce explained, “[Last year’s NLRB decision] Bethany College, which reversed [a 2013 board decision,] Pacific Lutheran, . . . has resulted in a policy that has emanated from the courts that religious universities do not have to show much to consider themselves to have a religious bent and direction and therefore exclude faculty from being able to unionize.”

He directed attendees to the recent NLRB General Motors decision. “General Motors changed the standards with respect to offensive speech . . . during the course of protected concerted activity,” he said. Pearce added that cases involving sexist and racist remarks set on the picket line is an area that should not have received protections under the NLRA, though he said he backed the board’s decision in the case.

* * *

Antranik Chekemian is a second-year student at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a CPR 2021 intern.

* * *

You can read the rest of Antranik Chekemian’s report on the CPR seminar at Part II: More on Workplace ADR Under the Biden Administration (April 19), and Part III: Deference Change–Analysis of a Shift on a Labor Arbitration Review Standard (April 26).

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Video Simulation Highlights the Need for a New Deal Point: The Prevention Neutral

By Amy Foust

A March 4 New York Law School Alternative Dispute Resolution Program presentation focused on the work of CPR’s Dispute Prevention Committee, centering on recognizing the inevitability of disagreements in complex business relationships, and the value of working to prevent problems from festering into conflict and formal disputes.

The program, “No Need to Resolve if You Can Prevent,” opened with moderator Noah Hanft, of New York consulting firm AcumenADR, noting that mediation was rare just a few decades ago, but is now common or even required in many jurisdictions.  He expressed confidence that dispute prevention, although unusual today, will be a part of ADR’s future.

Hanft, who was CPR’s president and CEO from 2014-2019, co-chairs the CPR Dispute Prevention Committee with Gregory S. Gallopoulos of General Dynamics Corp., in Falls Church, Va. The committee has worked with CPR to develop a dispute prevention panel of professionals to assist companies in developing techniques and processes to head off conflicts, and Model Dispute Prevention and Resolution Provisions. 

The model provisions assist with the appointment of a standing neutral for significant transactions, such as joint ventures where the parties envision a long-term relationship; a standby neutral, who is ready to step in but is not necessarily involved in regular meetings; or an agreement, without the appointment of a neutral, to work to recognize and resolve friction before it evolves into conflict.

CPR also offers a new Dispute Prevention Pledge for Business Relationships (it can be viewed and signed here) to recognize the importance of addressing conflict. The Pledge allows for contracting parties to incorporate dispute prevention mechanisms into business arrangements, such as the prompt identification of escalating conflicts or the appointment of a third-party neutral who will be engaged before disputes emerge.

Noting that the failure rate for joint ventures might be as high as 60%, the panel used portions of  a video from a January dispute prevention simulation at the CPR Annual Meeting to discuss how dispute prevention might work in a complex business scenario, with several of the #CPRAM21 presenters returning for analysis at the NYLS program. 

The video follows a hypothetical joint venture of two auto companies seeking to build a network of electric car charging stations. The scenario envisions perfunctory quarterly meetings, with increasing departures from projected results.  In one version of the scenario, there is no early intervention.  The failures lead to finger pointing and blaming.  Mediation fails, and the case goes to arbitration.

In a second scenario, a neutral attends meetings, and calls attention to the pattern of falling revenues before the parties have expressly addressed them.  Recognizing this as a likely source of future conflict, the neutral facilitates a conversation about the significance and causes of the departure from plan—a “constructive framework” for review. The parties work on a joint plan to revise the course of the deal or terminate the joint venture before a dispute emerges. 

The video segments also addressed overcoming objections to adding a dispute prevention clause to an agreement, distinguishing dispute prevention from a routine dispute resolution clause.  One mock negotiator dismissively described the appointment of a standing neutral as “like marriage counseling.” 

But panelist Deborah Hylton, a neutral who heads her own Durham, N.C., firm and who also played the role of the standing neutral in the CPR video, described the neutral’s role as more “guiding and facilitative,” akin to “an honest broker.”  She said the neutral can call out “the 500-pound. gorilla” neither side felt that it could address “for fear of signaling a weakness.” She described the value of the neutral’s ability to raise difficult issues.

Panelist Kimberly Maney, assistant general counsel at pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, based in Durham, N.C., spoke to the familiarity of the hypothetical scenario.  These relationships start in a great place, she said, but then “something goes not quite right,” and the relationship “moves to a scorched-earth posture.” 

Her business partners, Maney offered, would be happy to have a better option for managing conflict than burning the relationship to the ground.  Dispute prevention is helpful in allowing the parties to have a disagreement but still maintain a relationship, she noted.

Panelist Steven Bierman, a New York-based partner in Sidley Austin, noted that outside counsel and litigators are ultimately problem-solvers.  One way to help clients, he said, is to litigate or arbitrate a case, but another is to help clients anticipate problems and avoid litigation.  There will always be disputes to be litigated, Bierman said–if not this one, the next one.

In responding to audience questions, the panel encouraged counsel to engage the business executives involved in a large transaction in crafting a dispute resolution clause appropriate to the relationship the parties seek to establish. 

This is too important, Moderator Noah Hanft said, to be left to the lawyers.  Using ADR provisions as boilerplate copied from one agreement to the next is likely inadequate.  ADR clauses typically address how to resolve disputes, not how to manage the relationship to prevent disputes.

Furthermore, because the dispute prevention and resolution clauses govern the relationship, what worked in a prior relationship might not be in the best interests of a new relationship.  The best time to address these issues is at the outset, when everyone is on good terms. 

The program, hosted by NYLS ADR Skills Program Director F. Peter Phillips, is available at the program’s link above.  The CPR Institute has a web page devoted to the program, too, and it includes the video, here. Panelist Deborah Hylton also posted an article that expands on the Annual Meeting and NYLS programs that can be found here.

* * *

Author Amy Foust is an LLM candidate studying dispute resolution at the Straus Institute, Caruso School of Law at Malibu, Calif.’s Pepperdine University, and an intern with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021.

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House Passes ‘PRO’ Act, Which Includes Arbitration Restrictions

By Mark Kantor

Yesterday, the proposed Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 225-206 vote, with five Republicans voting Yay and one Democrat voting Nay.  The bill was sent to the U.S. Senate for consideration. 

While much arbitration-related attention in the new Congress has focused on the arbitration-only FAIR Act (for details and links, see Mark Kantor, “House Reintroduces a Proposal to Restrict Arbitration at a ‘Justice Restored’ Hearing,” CPR Speaks (Feb. 12) (available at http://bit.ly/3rze7y1)), the PRO Act contains significant provisions that, if finally enacted, would limit employment arbitration.

Most important, the PRO Act would make it an unfair labor practice for an employer to prevent employees requiring arbitration agreements that obligate an employee “not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee in any forum that, but for such agreement, is of competent jurisdiction.” 

Note that the coverage of the proposed PRO Act encompasses both employment contracts of adhesion and individually negotiated employment contracts, as well as covering individual independent contractors.  See Section 101(b) of the legislation at the act’s link above.

Section 104 of the PRO Act would override Epic Systems v. Lewis,138 S. Ct. 1612 (May 21)(available at https://bit.ly/2rWzAE8), with respect to employment arbitration and class proceedings. 

According to the accompanying section-by-section analysis released by the House, “ . . .  on May 21, 2018, the Supreme Court held in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis that … employers may force workers into signing arbitration agreements that waive the right to pursue work-related litigation jointly, collectively or in a class action. This section overturns that decision by explicitly stating that employers may not require employees to waive their right to collective and class action litigation, without regard to union status.”  (The analysis is available at https://bit.ly/2OGrKNj).

The ultimate Senate fate of the PRO Act is linked to the fate of the filibuster.  As Politico states:

But the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which advanced mostly along party lines, is unlikely to win the 60 votes needed for passage in the narrowly controlled Senate. And already, some union leaders — who hold outsize sway in the Biden administration — are amping up pressure on Democrats to eliminate the filibuster so they can see one of their top priorities enacted.

Eleanor Mueller and Sarah Ferris, “House passes labor overhaul, pitting unions against the filibuster,” Politico (March 9) (available at http://politi.co/3vbgFEu). For the latest on the limited prospects for overturning the filibuster in the Senate, see Burgess Everett, “Anti-filibuster liberals face a Senate math problem,” Politico (March 9) (available at http://politi.co/2ObVou0). 

The filibuster affects large swaths of proposed legislation coming out of the House of Representatives and the Biden Administration agenda. We can anticipate daily media attention to every word any member of Congress or the administration speaks about the topic for some time to come.

The operative PRO Act text in Sec. 104 overriding Epic Systems reads as follows:

(e) Notwithstanding chapter 1 of title 9, United States Code (commonly known as the ‘Federal Arbitration Act’), or any other provision of law, it shall be an unfair labor practice under subsection (a)(1) for any employer—

“(1) to enter into or attempt to enforce any agreement, express or implied, whereby prior to a dispute to which the agreement applies, an employee undertakes or promises not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee in any forum that, but for such agreement, is of competent jurisdiction;

“(2) to coerce an employee into undertaking or promising not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee; or

“(3) to retaliate or threaten to retaliate against an employee for refusing to undertake or promise not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee: Provided, That any agreement that violates this subsection or results from a violation of this subsection shall be to such extent unenforceable and void: Provided further, That this subsection shall not apply to any agreement embodied in or expressly permitted by a contract between an employer and a labor organization.”;

Also, according to the proposal’s section-by-section analysis, PRO Act Section 109(c) would create a private right of action in U.S. federal court if the NLRB fails to pursue a retaliation claim.

(c) Private right to civil action.  If the NLRB does not seek an injunction to protect an employee within 60 days of filing a charge for retaliation against the employee’s right to join a union or engage in protected activity, that employee may bring a  civil  action  in  federal  district  court. The  district  court  may  award  relief  available  to employees who file a charge before the NLRB.

Yesterday’s hearings have gone viral via fiery words backing the act’s passage by Tim Ryan, D., Ohio, who chided Republicans for failing to support workers.  “Heaven forbid we pass something that’s going to help the damn workers in the United States of America!” shouted Ryan in the House chambers, adding, “Heaven forbid we tilt the balance that has been going in the wrong direction for 50 years!”

Republican opponents immediately fired back, saying that the bill would hurt workers by hurting business and the economy. For details, see Katie Shepherd, “Tim Ryan berates GOP over labor bill: ‘Stop talking about Dr. Seuss and start working with us,’” Washington Post (March 10) (available at http://wapo.st/3bz2YaF).

* * *

Mark Kantor is a member of CPR-DR’s Panels of Distinguished Neutrals. Until he retired from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, he was a partner in the firm’s Corporate and Project Finance Groups. He currently serves as an arbitrator and mediator. He teaches as an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center (Recipient, Fahy Award for Outstanding Adjunct Professor). He also is Editor-in-Chief of the online journal Transnational Dispute Management. He is a frequent contributor to CPR Speaks, and this post originally was circulated to a private list serv and adapted with the author’s permission. Alternatives editor Russ Bleemer contributed to the research.

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Supreme Court Denies Review on the Interplay Between the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and the Federal Arbitration Act

By Amy Foust

The Supreme Court today denied certiorari in GE Capital Retail Bank v. Belton, No. 20-481, an arbitration case in a bankruptcy matter.  The question presented by petitioner GE Capital, and rejected in this morning’s order list by the Court, was “whether provisions of the Bankruptcy Code providing for a statutorily enforceable discharge of a debtor’s debts impliedly repeal the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.”

The U.S. Bankruptcy Code section in question, 11 U.S.C. § 524(a)(2), provides in part:

A discharge in a case under this title— …

(2) operates as an injunction against the commencement or continuation of an action, the employment of process, or an act, to collect, recover or offset any such debt as a personal liability of the debtor, whether or not discharge of such debt is waived[.]

The case, on cert petition from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, suggests a tension between this section of the bankruptcy code and the Federal Arbitration Act, which provides that written agreements to arbitrate are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable” (9 U.S.C. §2), and that if there is no issue with the making of the agreement, a court “shall make an order directing the parties to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the terms of the agreement.” 9 U.S.C. §4. 

The underlying dispute was a putative class action related to GE Capital’s efforts to collect debts discharged in bankruptcy.  The plaintiffs–the discharged debtors–brought contempt proceedings under § 524 arguing a violation of the injunction against continued recovery.  GE Capital moved to have the dispute referred to arbitration. 

The case of Respondent Belton and two others similarly situated were addressed in a consolidated decision by the federal bankruptcy court in New York’s Southern District, finding that referring these cases to arbitration would defeat the purpose of seeking bankruptcy protections.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District reversed the bankruptcy court and sent Belton’s case to arbitration. 

But around the same time, the Second Circuit decided Anderson v. Credit One Bank, N.A., 884 F.3d 382 (2d Cir. 2018), a case involving similar facts to GE Capital. In Anderson, an appeals panel found an inherent conflict between § 524 and the FAA because the discharge injunction is critical to the bankruptcy code’s purpose; the contempt claim requires the bankruptcy court’s continuing supervision, and denying the court the power to enforce its own injunctions would undermine bankruptcy code enforcement. 

In response to a request for reconsideration in view of Anderson, the U.S. District Court reversed itself and denied the motion to compel arbitration.  GE Capital appealed to the Second Circuit, which affirmed the district court. 

GE Capital then appealed to the Supreme Court, framing the issue as an implied repeal of the FAA, citing the Court’s support from Epic Systems v. Lewis, 138 S. Ct. 1612, 1627 (2018), where the Court rejected a request to have the National Labor Relations Act override the Federal Arbitration Act. 

In a response to GE Capital’s request asking the nation’s top court to decline to hear the case, Respondent Belton had argued that the Second Circuit was correct in its analysis of this narrow issue, which is not the subject of any circuit split and did not merit the Court’s attention.

So the Second Circuit decision stands, allowing the respondents to proceed with contempt sanctions against major banks for continuing attempts to recover debts that had been subject of a bankruptcy discharge.

* * *

The author is an LLM candidate studying dispute resolution at the Straus Institute, Caruso School of Law at Malibu, Calif.’s Pepperdine University, and an intern with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021.

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#CPRAM21: Committing to More Diversity in ADR

If you missed the 2021 CPR Annual Meeting in January—the first free public meeting held online in the organization’s 40-year history—the videos are being posted on CPR’s YouTube Channel. While additional videos will be posted for CPR members only, the first, linked here on CPR Speaks, is open access and features the keynoters, CNN Anchor and Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and General James Mattis, who is former U.S. Defense Secretary. Click the Subscribe button at YouTube for alerts and for more CPR content. For information on full access and joining CPR, please visit CPR’s Membership webpage here.

By Amy Foust

The CPR 2021 Annual Meeting’s final panel presentation encouraged participants to take action for a more equitable alternative dispute resolution community, and focused on CPR’s Diversity Commitment

The Jan. 29 third-day panel was hosted and moderated by CPR’s Anna M. Hershenberg, who is Vice President of Programs and Public Policy, as well as CPR’s Corporate Counsel.

The discussion, “Time To Move The Needle! CPR’s Diversity Commitment and Model Clause–and How to Track for Accountability,” included panelists

  • Hannah Sholl, Senior Counsel, Global Litigation & Competition at Visa Inc.;
  • Brenda Carr, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer in Washington, D.C.;
  • Tim Hopkins, a senior consultant at McKinley Advisors, also in Washington; and
  • Linda Klein, a partner in the Atlanta office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz.

The panel offered insights, simple practice changes, neutral selection templates, and diversity tracking tools for promoting diverse ADR panels.

Moderator Hershenberg kicked off the presentation with a poll of attendees, which asked, “What is the number one reason holding you back from selecting a diverse arbitrator or mediator for your matters?” The most popular answer, with 26% of the audience, was “I’m too nervous to select a neutral I don’t know or who my colleagues haven’t recommended.”

Hershenberg also reviewed the requirements under the CPR Diversity Commitment, including recruiting and hiring diverse neutrals.  She noted early Commitment adopters, including  Baker Donelson, ConocoPhillips Co., KPMG LLP, Shell Group, and Visa, among many others.  (Companies and law firms may sign the commitment on CPR’s website at www.cpradr.org/about/diversity-commitment.) Hannah Sholl discussed Visa’s process of managing diversity in light of adopting and signing the commitment.

These efforts, of course, raise the question of why practitioners don’t know more diverse neutrals.  Linda Klein, acknowledging research into affinity bias, said that in ADR, “the parties choose their judges, the arbitrators, and most people are comfortable with people who come from similar backgrounds.” 

Klein recommended applying the Mansfield Rule, which suggests ensuring that any slate of candidates includes at least 30% candidates who self-identify as diverse in some way. See, e.g., Homer C. La Rue, “A Call—and a Blueprint—for Change,” Dispute Resolution Magazine (Feb. 17 (available at http://bit.ly/2ZZ3zvJ).

The panel agreed that an easy way to identify diverse candidates is to request a slate from an institution like CPR, which strives to include diverse candidates.  Klein suggested that it is appropriate to complain if an institution provides a slate that is not diverse, and to request a substitute slate that includes a significant number of diverse candidates. 

The panel agreed that it might be helpful to reach beyond customary contacts to seek input on a neutral, but noted that inclusion on a provider institution panel alone is an indication that the proposed neutral has been vetted.

The audience and the panel repeatedly noted a variety of resources available to identify and research diverse candidates in addition to CPR Dispute Resolution, including the National Bar Association, the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, the African Arbitration Association, the American Bar Association, JAMS, Arbitral Women, the American Arbitration Association, and REAL-Racial Equality for Arbitration Lawyers.  The panel also provided extensive advice for potential neutrals on entering the field and for current neutrals on increasing their exposure and, ultimately, appointments.

Tim Hopkins and others noted that it can be helpful to sign the CPR Diversity Commitment or a comparable business pledge, and then checking to see if other parties to the dispute have signed similar diversity or corporate pledges.  It might be easier to convince other stakeholders to enlist an unfamiliar neutral if they have made a commitment to advance diversity–especially a specific commitment to advance diversity in ADR.

A simple, practical tip the panel provided was adding diverse neutrals clauses to organizations’ standard contract templates, so that there is a default to require specifically a diverse slate. There also was consensus that those clauses rarely generate mark-ups or controversy, and putting them in a template makes it that much more likely they will be added to a draft agreement. CPR provides a model clause that calls for at least one member of a tripartite panel to be diverse. (See link above.)

Other easy, low-cost tips, according to the panel, included praising diverse neutrals, so that their skills are recognized; confronting bias when it arises (e.g., statements like “Are you sure she can handle a $100 million case?”); including diverse neutrals in recommendations to rating services and providers; and, especially with travel restrictions in view of Covid-19 reducing the cost of attendance at virtual hearings, providing exposure by including diverse attorneys in ADR activities so that they are developing the required skills.

Attendee comments presaged the importance of measuring progress, and the panel agreed with the audience comments. Linda Klein proposed setting up a table of neutral qualifications before preparing a candidates’ list to facilitate an impartial selection process.

Brenda Carr presented a spreadsheet for tracking not only the panelists’ individual talents, but also the composition of the slates for those panels, and which candidates were selected.  Carr explained that tracking progress also helps to identify roadblocks—it allows advocates and parties to “have the conversations if you’re presenting a particular arbitrator as a possibility and you notice that the client is constantly turning them down. Maybe you want to follow up and have a conversation about why this person isn’t someone that you are ultimately selecting.” 

Looking at the tracking programs presented by the law firm representatives, Visa in-house counsel Hannah Sholl said that seeing this kind of work, presented in this way, “speaks a lot, and perhaps even more sometimes than … filling in the boxes and the ABA Diversity Commitment  [see https://bit.ly/3sGQ3tc]. You know . . . the firm [that] is tracking this cares about it, . . . is going through a process . . . and they have had a commitment.”

Overall, the panel agreed that the important thing was to start: Whether by signing a diversity commitment or tracking ADR diversity in just one department or working group, that first step is important.

* * *

The author is an LLM candidate studying dispute resolution at the Straus Institute, Caruso School of Law at Malibu, Calif.’s Pepperdine University, and an intern with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021.

[END]

#CPRAM21: Managing Workplace Conflicts, On-site and Remote

If you missed the 2021 CPR Annual Meeting in January—the first free public meeting held online in the organization’s 40-year history—the videos are being posted on CPR’s YouTube Channel. While additional videos will be posted for CPR members only, the first, linked here on CPR Speaks, is open access and features the keynoters, CNN Anchor and Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and General James Mattis, who is former U.S. Defense Secretary. Click the Subscribe button at YouTube for alerts and for more CPR content. For information on full access and joining CPR, please visit CPR’s Membership webpage here.

By Antranik Chekemian

Kimberley Lunetta, who represents management in employment matters as of counsel at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, moderated a third-day CPR Annual Meeting panel on state-of-the-art best practices for addressing and resolving workplace disputes. The panel mainly concentrated on managing employees and disputes in the current remote environment, and how to set up an ADR program in order to prevent and resolve conflicts.

The Jan. 29 session included four panelists:

  • Alfred G. Feliu, who heads his own New York firm, is a longtime panelist for CPR Dispute Resolution and the American Arbitration Association’s commercial and employment arbitration and mediation panels. He is past chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law Section and a fellow of the College of Commercial Arbitrators and the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.
  • Wayne Outten is chair and founder of New York’s Outten & Golden LLP, which focuses on representing employees. He has represented employees for more than 40 years as a litigator. He has long advocated for using mediation in employment disputes. His practice focuses on problem solving, negotiating, and counseling on behalf of employees.
  • Cheryl M. Manley is a veteran labor employment attorney with more than 25 years of  experience, and since 2005 has been at Charter Communications, where she is senior vice president and associate general counsel of employment law, leading the broadband/cable operator’s Employment Law Group.
  • Andrew J. Weissler is a partner in the labor and employment group of Husch Blackwell. He is a member of the firm’s virtual office, the Link, based in Bloomington, Ill. Weissler advises and represents public and private clients on workplace issues involving difficult personnel decisions.

Feliu and Outten are on a subcommittee of CPR’s Employment Disputes Committee that is working on a model workplace disputes program, along with a new version of CPR’s Employment Dispute Arbitration Procedure to be issued soon.

A poll conducted at the beginning of the panel showed that remote working was new for most of the participants.

Lunetta launched the discussion by asking Feliu about the threshold questions employers should ask themselves when considering an ADR program.

If the principal goal is avoiding litigation, responded Feliu, then employers “are really focusing on processing existing or incipient claims.” As a result, he said, employers “are going to focus more on arbitration–on ending up with a process that brings an ultimate result.”

But if the employer’s goal is more on problem solving and identifying tensions before they become disputes and the employer views conflict resolution as a strategic imperative, then the alternative approach of problem-solving should be embraced, he said. Here, the focus is different than pure litigation avoidance. Said Feliu, “Litigation avoidance or reduction of legal costs will be part–will be an effect, hopefully–of the problem-solving process but wouldn’t necessarily be the goal.”

This approach would also help the organization become more competitive, he said–to work more constructively and efficiently while, as an after-effect, avoiding litigation.

Feliu explained, “How do you do this? You do this is by opening up lines of communication, by necessarily undercutting to a certain extent the chain of command. You’re empowering employees to come forward with their disputes at whatever level and whatever the nature. And by doing that, you are creating a different kind of an organization that is less hierarchical, less structured, and more fluid.”

Wayne Outten added that ADR is ideal for workplace disputes. Because there already is an important relationship between both sides and the relationship is typically continuing, said Outten, it “is a perfect place for identifying problems and solving them early on.” He then presented two approaches that companies can embrace for dispute resolution procedures, the legal mentality and the human resources mentality.

The legal mentality, said Outten, is, “Let’s find a way to avoid lawsuits and to maximize the chances that we will win them with the least possible costs.” He said the HR approach is better, with goals of making employees happy and providing an environment where workers can be productive and focus on their jobs in an effective and efficient manner.

With the HR approach, Outten said, a program should start identifying problems at the earliest possible stage. “If a problem ripens into a dispute,” he said, the goal is “resolving the dispute in the simplest, quickest way possible and escalating only as and when you need to.” The HR approach also serves the lawyers’ perspective as it “tends to avoid disputes ripening into the possibility of litigation.”

Lunetta then asked the panelists whether having employees working from home in a number of states, possibly new states to the company, would affect the design of an ADR program.

Al Feliu responded that working from home would not alter or change the program itself, but it increases and amplifies “the need for it to be enforceable across 50 states and 50 jurisdictions.”

Wayne Outten discussed some of the positive and negative changes regarding the nature of workplace disputes that come with remote working. On one hand, the kind of disputes that arise from being in the same place, and having interpersonal reactions, presumably will be reduced with the increase in virtual offices, such as sexual harassment claims and bullying.

“On the other hand,” he said, “the opportunities for disputes are exacerbated because you don’t have as much free-flowing communication, and the ability to address things face to face.” Outten added, “Disputes may fester.”

From the management-side perspective, Husch Blackwell’s A.J. Weissler noted that the HR model Outten mentioned “has changed quite a bit in this remote work environment.” If the employees are typically working remotely, then having difficult conversations over the Internet should be acceptable, he said.  

But if a human resources or corporate employee is working from home while the business has essential workers who have been going to the employer’s worksite, then, says Weissler, “there’s a real disconnect there” that can make the on-site workers feel and sense that the employer is not in touch with the employee.

Moderator Kimberley Lunetta then asked panelists whether CPR has resources that can help employers think through these issues if they are considering any of the dispute resolution options that were discussed.

Outten said that this was the reason for CPR to be founded decades ago, with the goal of helping companies figure out how to avoid and resolve disputes.

Outten announced that CPR and its Employment Disputes Committee will be publishing a new set of rules for administered employment dispute resolution.  Accompanying the rules will include “draft programs that companies can adopt and adapt for their own use, which have within them the various different stages that employers can consider […] including things . . . [like] informal dispute resolution and problem solving, . . . open-door policies that invite people to take their problems up the chain of command,” ombudspersons, peer review processes and “all the way up to mediation which . . . is perfectly suited for employment disputes of all kinds.”

The conversation then revolved around the pluses and minuses for an employer of establishing a mandatory arbitration program.

“In reaching the decision that our arbitration program was going to be mandatory,” responded Charter Communications’ Cheryl Manley, “one of the factors that went into play was either reducing the litigation costs, or perhaps not having to deal with court litigation.” She mentioned that her company’s program was built to resolve issues in a timely manner and on an individualized basis.

She further added that her organization has many steps before getting to the arbitration phase to resolve the employment issue. And “when it finally does get to arbitration, we believe that there’s some certainty,” said Manley, “We believe that both parties have some skin in the game, in terms of selecting the arbitrator and primarily, it’s cost effective and efficient.”

Outten then answered a question about CPR’s employment ADR program and how it can help employers not only set up, but also ensure long-term success.

Outten reiterated the program’s strength in early-stage problem solving and early dispute resolution, and added that the program offers room for flexibility and adaptability in different workplaces.

Mediation with a third-party facilitator, he said, “can be extremely valuable and beneficial. It gives the parties an opportunity to air their grievances.” When it comes to arbitration, he said, every successful workplace ADR program really needs to comply “at a minimum,” with due process protocols.”

He then presented several key features of the due process protections (which CPR has adopted here), which include:

  • “The employee isn’t required to pay more than they would pay if they were going to file in court.”
  • “The arbitrator has the authority and power to provide any remedy that a court can provide so that there’s no takeaway of remedies for the affected employee.”
  • “The employee has a fair opportunity to pick the decision maker–the arbitrator–especially given the binding power of the decision of this person to resolve the dispute.”
  • “The employee has to have a full and fair opportunity to gather information in order to present the case and . . . [any] defenses.”
  • “The employee needs to have an opportunity to have counsel of his or her choosing.”
  • “The hearing itself should be reasonably convenient . . .  so the employee doesn’t have to go a long distance to have his or her day in court.”
  • Finally, “the arbitration should end with a reasoned decision, so the parties know what the arbitrator took into account, what the findings were on the evidence, and what the legal conclusions were in determining” the decision.

A.J. Weissler added that “there are great legal reasons” not to “cram down” arbitration in a workplace disputes program, citing fairness. He said that arbitrator selection is an important factor in presenting a fair process, with a say for the employees.

Al Feliu noted that there is a dearth of diverse panelists, but major providers have made strides and continue to work on the problem to enhance and ensure fairness.

Cheryl Manley agreed with the comments, and emphasized that panelists need to reflect the workplace population.

Manley discussed Charter Communication’s Solution Channel, which she described as a 2017 program to compel arbitration use—a mandatory program for newly signed-on employees, with about 10% of the company’s 90,000 employees opting out when it was launched.  She reported that the complaints are restricted to legal claims—non-legal disputes are addressed in other ways–that are submitted through a third-party vendor which create a record over the claim. She said the American Arbitration Association is the provider.  The company absorbs the AAA filing fees and the arbitrator costs. If either side is unsatisfied with the panel, they return to the AAA for more choices.

Weissler says arbitration should be part of any dispute resolution system but if it’s made mandatory and employees are forced to use it, he said, it is counterproductive and it creates problems going forward due to the “asymmetrical” views.

Weissler said he encourages mediation as a best option. He said he is skeptical of programs that outline steps that do not allow a course of mediation to be developed.

Feliu says he has been mediating for 30 years and familiarity has grown during his period of practice after skepticism.  He agreed with Weissler’s points, but noted that mandatory mediation in New York federal court, where he said he would have expected resistance—mandatory is counterintuitive, said Feliu—it has been just as successful as voluntary mediation over about the past 10 years.

Feliu said sometimes there is grumbling but mostly, when parties get to the bargaining table, they try to settle. And he said that while joint sessions are fading, flexibility is needed.  “Every mediation is different,” he said.

Wayne Outten said that he shared Al Feliu’s experience.  In the mid-1980s, he said, the plaintiffs’ bar “viewed this newfangled process as a conspiracy to take away their rights, and I soon discovered that was not necessarily the case and became a big advocate.”

Over the past 35 years, said Outten, mediation “has become quite normal.” He echoed Feliu again,  noting that when parties attempt mediation in good faith, it is successful.

Even in situations with a lot of open issues, he said, mediation “has a very high success rate, . . .  and is always worth trying.”

Cheryl Manley said that pre-pandemic, her company didn’t want anything done virtually or remotely—all depositions, mediations and arbitration hearings were done in person, exclusively.  The change was swift, she said. “Fast forward seven, eight, nine months, . . . when we finally emerge from this pandemic, we aren’t going to go back to all depositions in person, all mediations in person or hearings,” said Manley, adding, “In fact, I think that there is no reason . . . to start putting people back on planes traveling all over the country.  It is expensive. It’s time consuming.  And it is not efficient. “ She said that the “only issues” are “the occasional technological” problems.

A.J. Weissler said he has participated in virtual matters frequently during the pandemic, and found “an incredible benefit.” Having the people resources ready on video, whether from home or for those back in their offices, has “been an incredible thing,” he said, adding that he strongly supports virtual mediations.

Wayne Outten said he always has had a concern whether real decision makers would be in the mediation room.  “Now with virtual mediations,” he said, “that problem can be more readily addressed.”

Al Feliu said he has only done virtual mediations since his first in March.  “All of the impediments, and all of the arguments against them, have been rebuffed, “ he said. For example, he explained, he can evaluate credibility better on close-up video than across a bargaining table.

Feliu conceded that there is a different feel in an in-person gathering where people have committed to the process.  That intensity, he said, isn’t present where people are sitting on their couches, are more relaxed, with their dogs nearby.  “It’s just a different process,” he said.  “I don’t have the shrieking episodes. I don’t have a lot of emotions.  Is it good or bad? It’s just different.”

The result, he said, has been that he isn’t settling cases on the first day as much as he did at in-person mediations.

Addressing audience questions, Al Feliu said he discusses confidentiality with the parties with heightened concerns, noting that a potentially serious issue could be where extra people are present, and not visible on screen, as well as individuals texting on the side. “These are all serious concerns we need to get equilibrium on” going into the mediation, he said.

* * *

The author, a second-year student at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a CPR 2021 intern. Alternatives editor Russ Bleemer contributed writing and research to this report.

[END]

Let’s Schein Again!

The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution presents a CPR Speaks blog discussion of the 1/25/2021 U.S. Supreme Court per curiam decision dismissing Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., No. 19-963, and a same-day order declining to hear Piersing v. Domino’s Pizza Franchising LLC, No. 20-695. Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation Editor Russ Bleemer hosts Prof. Angela Downes, University of North Texas-Dallas College of Law, and arbitrator-advocates contributors Richard Faulkner, also of Dallas, and Philip J. Loree Jr. in New York.

By Russ Bleemer

The panel returns to CPR Speaks and YouTube to analyze the Monday Henry Schein dismissal–a one-line decision–just a month after the Court heard oral arguments on the issue of how a contract carve-out removing injunctions from arbitration affects the delegation of the entire matter to arbitration.

In fact, the Dec. 8, 2020, Henry Schein oral argument repeatedly turned to an issue in the rejected Piersing case on the effectiveness of the incorporation by reference of arbitration rules in designating an arbitration tribunal to decide whether a case is arbitrated, rather than a court deciding whether the matter is to be arbitrated. A cross-petition by Archer and White asking for review of the incorporation by reference of the arbitration contract’s American Arbitration Association rules was declined by the Supreme Court the same day it agreed to hear the carve-out issue last June.

Our panel discussed these issues after the oral argument on this blog.  See “Schein II: Argument in Review,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 9) (available at http://bit.ly/2VXfyIa) (in which the panelists also discuss their work on an amicus brief in the case, a subject that arose in this post’s video).

You can see today’s per curiam decision on the Supreme Court’s website here.

Monday’s Henry Schein dismissal ends a long period of Supreme Court litigation in the case that also included a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision. For now, the case returns to the Fifth Circuit for proceedings on whether the parties properly intended to arbitrate the case.

Details on the Supreme Court’s Monday cert denial in Piersing v. Domino’s Pizza Franchising LLC, No. 20-695, are available on CPR Speaks here.

For more analysis on the Henry Schein dismissal, see Ronald Mann, “Justices dismiss arbitrability dispute,” Scotusblog (Jan. 25, 2021) (available at http://bit.ly/2Yh9U4O), in which the Columbia University professor and Scotusblog analyst concludes that

it seems likely that the justices ultimately decided that they couldn’t sensibly say anything about this matter without addressing the question of whether the contract called for arbitration of the gateway question. Because they had declined to call for briefs on that question, it did not make sense to address it here. A logical course of action, then, was to dismiss the matter from the docket, providing a rare victory for a party opposing arbitration.

* * *

The author edits Alternatives for the CPR Institute.

Lincoln & ADR: Pepperdine’s Stipanowich Discusses Evolution in Arbitration

By Alice Albl

The second series of New York Law School’s Conversations in Conflict drew to a close Sept. 23 with an interview featuring Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law Prof. Thomas J. Stipanowich.

The discussion centered around the progress of arbitration since the release of Stipanowich’s five-volume treatise on federal arbitration law in the 1990s; his expansive view included advancing the practice with lessons taken from the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Stipanowich’s theories focused on a tension between familiarity and efficiency. In drawing from what they know as lawyers, neutrals in arbitration may bind the process too closely to the establishment of litigation, he explained.

While neutrals may believe that apparently tried-and-true procedures inspired by litigation form the best avenues to successful dispute resolution, this mindset hinders the use of more creative, and potentially more effective, methods.

Instead, Stipanowich invited neutrals to follow in the footsteps of President Lincoln, whom he considered to be a “super functional” arbitrator. Like Lincoln, modern ADR community members should seek to work for the parties’ interests and not a nominal win.

But when Stipanowich began studying arbitration in the 1980s, neutrals weren’t the focus. Back then, arbitration suffered from a lack of procedural structure, most notably missing protocols for discovery and case management, he said.

In the ensuing years arbitrators filled these gaps. Stipanowich described this as the “legalization” of ADR, a process by which neutrals appropriated features from the practice of law into their work.

While legal processes may be effective in arbitration, their familiarity causes them to monopolize the roles they serve. Stipanowich cited examples in both the United States and abroad to demonstrate that the dominant legal processes are not necessarily the best.

Domestically, Stipanowich discussed the double-blind arbitration process used in contracts by the Writers’ Guild of America. Under this process, the disputants’ and arbitrators’ identities are not known to each other. This has the practical purpose of preventing conflict in the industry beyond the dispute, but it may also prove for a more equitable resolution beyond the reach of “legalized” ADR.

Abroad, Stipanowich, who is former president and chief executive officer of the CPR Institute, which publishes this blog, looked to the “multi-lane” duties neutrals performed in other cultures, such as the way German arbitrators help craft settlements or Chinese arbitrators often double as mediators.

U.S. arbitrators seem to be gradually warming to the idea of building multi-lane brands, something that Stipanowich encourages. He praised those who use a variety of roles and techniques to find the true conflict in disputes.

Stipanowich emphasized that finding the true conflict as early as possible will allow a neutral to spend more time balancing resolution with the interests and relationships among parties. After 40 years of study, he has found that this balance is key to success in ADR.

For Stipanowich, few could exemplify care for interests and relationships more than Abraham Lincoln. He closed the session by emphasizing the icon’s willingness to look beyond wins and vengeance during the Civil War, instead focusing on a goal of rights and equity. To see beyond the fray toward a fair resolution, Stipanowich says, is what ADR is about.

* * *

Recordings of NYLS’s Conversations in Conflict Resolution series are being posted at the school’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program at https://bit.ly/32A3aAP.  

* * *

The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

[END]

Supreme Court Rejects Decade-Old Class Arbitration Employment Discrimination Case

By Cristina Carvajal

A contentious employment discrimination case now focusing on whether an arbitrator is within her authority to bind a class of employees who did not affirmatively opt-in or consent to class arbitration will not resurface now at the Supreme Court.

This morning, in its first 2020-2021 term order list (available at https://bit.ly/3la3Y72), declined to hear Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 942 F.3d 617 (2d Cir. 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/30yP3eZ).

The Second Circuit decision in the case last year will return the case to federal district court in New York for more proceedings ahead of arbitration in the 12-year-old-case.

The nation’s top Court today denied cert in Sterling Jewelers Inc. v. Jock, No. 1382 (Supreme Court case page available at https://bit.ly/3lgflL2). While the opt-in is the issue most recently litigated, the Court considered and rejected today a petition by the national jewelry chain on an event broader question presented,

Whether an arbitrator may compel class arbitration—binding the parties and absent class members—without finding actual consent, and instead based only on a finding that the agreement does not unambiguously prohibit class arbitration and should be construed against the drafter.

The employment case’s gender-based discrimination claim was first filed in 2008 by then-present and former women Sterling Jewelers employees. All workers were required to sign its Resolve agreement subject to American Arbitration Association rules, which included a mandatory arbitration clause, as well as a litigation waiver. For more, see Anne Muenchinger, “Still No Arbitration: In Its latest Jock decision, Second Circuit Reverses for More Contract Interpretation,” 38 Alternatives 77 (2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2GuxplA).

Not only has this case been moved from New York’s Southern U.S. District Court to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals four times, but today’s rejection was its second at the Supreme Court. Today’s decision puts the case back on a road to the case’s arbitrator, former New York Southern District magistrate Kathleen A. Roberts, now a JAMS Inc. neutral in the firm’s New York office.

David Bouffard, vice president of corporate affairs at Signet Jewelers Ltd.in Akron, Ohio, notes in a statement,

While we respect the Court’s decision, we believe the claims in this matter are without merit and are not substantiated the relevant facts and statistics. We will continue to vigorously defend against these claims, which do not accurately reflect our company or our culture. Indeed, we have long been committed to fostering a culture of respect, integrity, diversity, and inclusion where all employees feel safe, supported, and empowered—this is a tenet of who we are. In particular, Signet is a recognized leader among companies for gender diversity, with women filling 74% of store management positions and gender parity in both the C-Suite and Board of Directors. Under the leadership of our CEO, Gina Drosos, we continue to champion diversity and inclusion as a strategic priority, as we have been honored to be included on the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index for two consecutive years.

Plaintiffs’ attorney, Joseph M. Sellers, a Washington, D.C., partner in Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, declined to comment on the cert denial.

In its latest decision last year, the Second Circuit reversed the lower court’s judgment and held “that the arbitrator was within her authority in purporting to bind the absent class members to class proceedings because, by signing the operative arbitration agreement, the absent class members no less than the parties, bargained for the arbitrator’s construction of their agreement with respect to class arbitrability.” Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 942 F.3d 617 (2d Cir. 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/30yP3eZ).

The Second Circuit referred to its previous decisions as Jock I, Jock II and Jock III. (For more on the case’s knotty procedural history, see the Alternatives’ link above). Noting that a court’s standard of review of arbitrator decisions is highly deferential, the unanimous panel in the opinion written by Circuit Judge Peter W. Hall reasoned that the arbitration agreement’s incorporation of the AAA Rules, in particular the Supplementary Rules which give an arbitrator authority to decide if an arbitration clause permits class arbitration, makes it clear that the arbitrator can decide on the question of class arbitrability.

The panel further noted the arbitration agreement itself provides that “’[q]uestions of arbitrability’ and ‘procedural questions’ shall be decided by the arbitrator.” Id.at 624.

The decision underscored that while in Jock II the panel pointed out that Jock I did not address “whether the arbitrator had the power to bind absent class members to class arbitration given that they . . . never consented to the arbitrator determining whether class arbitration was permissible under the agreement in the first place.” (Quoting an earlier decision in the case.)

That fact, however, was not a basis to alter the Second Circuit’s analysis given that class actions in arbitration and courts may bind absent class members as part of mandatory or opt-out classes.

 The Second Circuit noted that its “use of ‘consent’ as shorthand” left unclear “the possibility that the absent class members consented in a different way to the arbitrator’s authority to decide class arbitrability.” Id.at 626.

In remanding the case, the Second Circuit left open for the District Court to decide “whether the arbitrator exceeded her authority in certifying an opt-out, as opposed to a mandatory, class for injunctive and declaratory relief.” The Second Circuit already reversed an affirmative determination on that issue, but in the 2019 decision, the panel states that the lower court may revisit the issue “after allowing the parties an opportunity to present renewed argument in light of any subsequent developments in the law.”

* * *

The author, a third-year student at the City University of New York School of Law, is a Fall 2020 CPR Institute student intern.  Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation editor Russ Bleemer assisted with reporting for this post.

[END]

A Boxer’s Day: First Circuit Refuses to Compel the WBO’s In-House Arbitration Scheme

By Alice Albl

The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a judgement to enforce an arbitration agreement, ruling that the contract between a professional boxer and sanctioning organization was unconscionable because it allowed the organization to select arbitrators from its own staff. 

In Trout v. Organización Mundial de Boxeo Inc., 965 F.3d 71 (1st Cir. 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2FNdUEF), the First Circuit Court remanded a case against the World Boxing Organization to the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico. The court called the arbitrator-selection provision in the WBO’s Appeal Regulations “unconscionable.”

After declaring this selection process invalid, Circuit Judge David Barron, writing for a unanimous panel, left it to the federal district court to determine whether a severability clause from the separate but applicable WBO Championship Regulations would allow arbitration under the Appeal Regulations to continue.

In a concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Timothy Dyk wrote that, though the panel had declared the WBO arbitration setup unconscionable, it had omitted saying whether that determination would have to fall under state or federal law. Dyk noted that the court had avoided contribution to the thorny debate over how the Federal Arbitration Act may preempt state arbitration laws.

For now, according to the WBO’s attorney, Edward Ricco, a director at the Rodey Law firm in Albuquerque, N.M., the case can either proceed in the district court or transition into litigation. Ricco did not mention any plans to seek certiorari or a rehearing.

Professional boxer and World Boxing Organization member Austin Trout filed suit in a New Mexico state court in November 2015 alleging that “the WBO’s decision to remove him from its rankings for a certain weight class cost him a chance to pursue the world championship in that class,” as described in the opinion. Trout called the act a violation of the Muhammed Ali Boxing Reform Act (“MABRA”), and added claims under Puerto Rico law for breach of contract, fraud and negligence.

The WBO claimed that Trout had caused his own removal by committing to another fight while scheduled for a ranking match. The WBO invoked its Championship Regulations, which bound Trout as an organization member, and transferred venue to the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico.

There, the WBO filed a motion to compel arbitration. It cited a provision of the Championship Regulations that required disputes to be arbitrated under its separate Appeal Regulations.

The motion was granted despite Trout’s insistence that a MABRA complaint was entitled to federal court adjudication. Trout included this contention along with three others in an appeal to the First Circuit.

While the First Circuit was quick to disarm Trout’s claim about MABRA requirements, along with two other claims, it focused on his assertion that a provision in the Appeal Regulations was unfair.

 This provision notes that arbitrators are gathered into a Grievance Committee of “[t]hree persons designated by the President” of the WBO. Those chosen served for “indeterminate terms” and were “subject to replacement by the nomination of the President of the WBO.”

Trout contested the WBO’s President’s power to freely choose and replace arbitrators as unconscionable.

The WBO countered by indicating additional language stating: “the Grievance Committee shall act as a fair and independent arbitrator of any grievance arising out of WBO Participation and it shall conduct all of its proceedings as Amiable Compositeur, Ex Aequo et Bono.”

It drew parallels between the regulations’ phrasing, and clauses deemed acceptable by other courts. Those clauses required the selection of arbitrators who were “qualified and independent.’”

That, held the First Circuit, was the problem. While cited precedent called for individuals who were “independent,” the WBO only required that an arbitrator’s performance be independent. Its selection provision called for “[t]hree persons designated by the President” of the WBO, none of whom may be members of the WBO Executive Committee.”

But the contract permitted the president to select biased individuals, even from within the WBO itself. “In fact,” the First Circuit opinion notes, “at oral argument the WBO conceded that the Appeal Regulations give the WBO’s president the power to nominate his or her own assistant to serve on the Grievance Committee.”

Allowing arbitrators to be biased toward one side of a dispute, even if expected to perform in an “independent” manner, was unconscionable, according to the First Circuit opinion.

With the selection provision struck as unconscionable, the First Circuit sent the case back to the district court to determine whether a severability clause that would allow the arbitration to continue applied. The severability clause was written not among the terms of the Appeal Regulations it was intended to preserve, but in the Championship Regulations which compelled WBO members to arbitrate.

In his concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Dyk, sitting by designation from the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, commented on an issue unaddressed by the court. Although the WBO’s selection provision was soundly unconscionable, he wrote: “whether arbitration-clause-specific issues of unconscionability (and certain related defenses) are governed by individual state law or federal common was up for debate.”

Dyk’s comment referred to a fiery debate ignited by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 (2011) (available at https://bit.ly/363u7jW) centered around whether the FAA preempts conflicting state law defense arbitration or rather acts a guideline for it. This topic, he concluded, “we appropriately leave to another day the question[…].”

While Trout awaits further action in the San Juan federal court, WBO counsel Edward Ricco says that he believes that the case’s impact on ADR practice will go back to contract construction. “I imagine the case will warn drafters away from the sort of arbitrator-selection provision at issue,” he said, “certainly in the First Circuit and presumably in other jurisdictions where the Trout decision may have persuasive value.”

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The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

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