Supreme Court Reviews the Role of Prejudice to a Party in Determining Arbitration Waiver

By Russ Bleemer

This morning’s U.S. Supreme Court arbitration arguments in Morgan v. Sundance Inc., No. 21-328, reviewed what appeared to be a simple case of whether a plaintiff needs to show prejudice as a pivotal factor in claiming that a defendant has waived its right to arbitration.

But it wasn’t so simple. The arguments ranged over multiple possible standards for including the factor, as well as how to do so if it stays.

The question of whether the Federal Arbitration Act supports prejudice as a factor in waiving the right to arbitration stood next to evaluating the defendant’s actions for waiver in the arguments, with the petitioner soon attacking whether prejudice should be a part of the determination.

The solution likely will be anything but simple. Today expansive arguments lasted nearly an hour and a half–wiith just two attorneys–showed the Court wrestling with the need and content of a prejudice evaluation that has split the circuits.  The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on review today had held that “[a] party waives its right to arbitration if it: (1) knew of an existing right to arbitration; (2) acted inconsistently with that right; and (3) prejudiced the other party by these inconsistent acts.” 

In its summary ahead of the question presented, the Supreme Court noted that eight other federal courts of appeals and most state supreme include the requirement that the waiving party’s inconsistent acts caused prejudice in the waiver analysis, while three federal courts of appeal, and at least four state supreme courts  “do not include prejudice as an essential element of proving waiver of the right to arbitrate.

With nearly everyone in the courtroom stressing the need for a simple evaluation, both sides missed opportunities to offer one.  Karla Gilbride, co-Director of the Access to Justice Project at Washington, D.C., a nonprofit public interest law firm Public Justice, and attorney for petitioner Robyn Morgan, compellingly noted that the prejudice requirement was “atextual” and “all over the place.”

But she didn’t draw a bright line by noting that employees would be prejudiced by expending time or money on cases where employers delayed their arbitration requests until after they took litigation steps.

Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, a partner in the Washington office of Kirkland & Ellis, facing Justice Neil Gorsuch’s option that the Court eschew a Federal Arbitration Act analysis and send the case back to the lower court for a pure Iowa state law analysis, said that if that path is taken, the Court instead of offering a ruling, should dismiss Morgan entirely as improvidently granted.

And the Court wasn’t helping the advocates by invoking layers of state contract law doctrines, federal statutes, and case interpretations in order to establish a standard for evaluating waiver and whether to include prejudice.

Every member of the Court had pointed questions for the advocates in today’s arguments.  Justice Clarence Thomas didn’t participate, however; the Court announced Sunday that he had been hospitalized with an infection, but it noted this morning that he would participate in the case based on the filings and the arguments’ transcript.

Petitioner attorney Gilbride opened, with an argument that centered around the case issue of whether the the Eighth Circuit ruling favored arbitration, in violation of AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011), and FAA Sec. 2, which says that arbitration contracts are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.”

She maintained that the prejudice requirement has become specific to arbitration. She said there was a lot of discussion in the briefs about waiver and default, but the Eighth Circuit should have applied generally applicable Iowa law.  Then, she explained, if it found waiver, the court would still have to assess if the actions of employer Sundance, which owns Taco Bell franchises, were in default of proceeding.

“So whether Sundance’s actions constituted default is a secondary question,” said Gilbride, “not a replacement for the first-order waiver inquiry.”

Gilbride was moving from her FAA Sec. 2 analysis to FAA Sec. 3, and urging the Court to adopt a two-step analysis for evaluating waiving a right to arbitration. She was countering an argument made by Paul Clement in his Court briefs, who maintained that FAA Sec. 3 could be dispositive.

FAA Sec. 3 deals with motions to stay proceedings in favor of arbitration:

If any suit or proceeding be brought in any of the courts of the United States upon any issue referable to arbitration under an agreement in writing for such arbitration, the court in which such suit is pending, upon being satisfied that the issue involved in such suit or proceeding is referable to arbitration under such an agreement, shall on application of one of the parties stay the trial of the action until such arbitration has been had in accordance with the terms of the agreement, providing the applicant for the stay is not in default in proceeding with such arbitration.

“Prejudice,” declared Gilbride, “has no part to play in either of these inquiries.”

Under initial questioning from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Elena Kagan, Gilbride offered that the Court could remand for analysis of Iowa’s generally applicable waiver doctrines, but instead the Eighth Circuit looked at federal law and erroneously required prejudice. See Morgan v. Sundance Inc., 992 F.3d 711 (8th Cir. 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/3nqL7sJ). She conceded that prejudice could be a part of the state contract law, and that each case needed individual determination at the trial court level. 

At the same time, she noted that there could be a statutory default under federal law in FAA Sec. 3.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. pressed Gilbride on how state law would affect the analysis if it in some way provided something different for arbitration cases than for other contract cases. She warned that arbitration-specific standards wouldn’t likely survive in analyzing three hypothetical Alito treatments of state law.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Gilbride her analysis was confusing, with the FAA Sec. 3 default meshing with FAA Sec. 4 on federal court jurisdiction over parties who refuse to honor arbitration agreements for purposes of compelling the process. Sotomayor appeared uncomfortable with the need to find a federal law default standard under Sec. 3 after finding the state law waiver standard needed for Sec. 2 in Gilbride’s sequential analysis proposal.

Sotomayor summarized, noting, “Some of my colleagues are troubled by the fact that states differ in how they define waiver.  I am troubled by the fact that the circuits define prejudice in different ways.”

At that point, Gilbride offered a bright-line standard. She noted that the requirement is “atextual” and not applied uniformly. “A presumption that a party should raise their defense of arbitration . . . by the time they file their first responsive pleading, by the time of their answer . . . before their answer if they file a motion,” she said, “that would be presumptively enough to get someone not to be in default in proceeding.”

The analysis Gilbride proposed, countered Chief Justice Roberts, will “increase the complexity and delay in arbitration proceedings.  . . . [It is] creating a whole new battleground before you even get to arbitration about whether or not there’s been . . waiver under state law. It seems quite contrary to the policy behind the FAA.”

Gilbride quickly countered that the prejudice requirement “actually increases delay and increases the sort of skirmishing in court . . . before anyone resorts to the arbitral forum that the FAA was designed eliminate.

In response to a comment by Justice Stephen G. Breyer that delay cases are fact intensive, Public Justice’s Karla Gilbride insisted that the analysis isn’t “any more complicated than questions about . . . who is bound by the contract or whether a particular dispute fall within the terms of the contract.  . . . State courts and federal courts applying state law answer those questions . . . within the parameters of the FAA all the time . . . without anything seeming to have ground to a halt.”

* * *

Sundance’s Paul Clement said that his client wasn’t in default under FAA Sec. 3, because there was no violation of a contract or a law. “[U]under all relevant state law doctrines, one has to show prejudice before a contractual right is lost because you litigated or waited too long to assert it,” he said at the outset, adding, “The most straightforward way to affirm the decision below is to apply Section 3 and its stay absent default direction.”

Client Sundance, Clement explained, moved under FAA Sec. 3 to stay the litigation, and “it is not in violation of any contractual deadline, any court rule, or any other legal obligation.”

He said the problem wasn’t a waiver by the respondent of its right to arbitrate.  “[W]hat is at issue is simply not asserting a right soon enough,” he said.

Chief Justice Roberts was skeptical, asking, “Waiver plays no role in regard–evaluating that situation at all?”

Clement said that in the absence of filing deadlines, courts will assess a variety of factors–including prejudice to the other side.  

Justice Neil Gorsuch pressed him on assessing a waiver in the absence of an intentional act, and Clement said that the lower court really meant a forefeiture. 

At that point, Gorsuch suggested it would make sense to send the case back for that state law analysis stating that the Eighth Circuit made a mistake using a federal law analysis.  That’s when Clement said that the Court should dismiss the case instead.

“The Eighth Circuit wasn’t saying this is absolutely waiver and ‘that’s why we’re applying this three-factor test,’” explained Clement.

The circuit court, he continued, “applied the three-factor test presumably as–if you go back in their case law . . .– as a gloss on the [FAA Sec. 3] statutory phrase ‘in default.’ And [the appeals panel] said, as a general matter, ‘This is when it’s too late to invoke your right to arbitrate, and we have a three-factor test, and the plaintiff in this case fails under the third factor.’ Importantly, [the Eighth Circuit] didn’t even definitively resolve the second factor [acting inconsistently with the right to arbitration], which is the only thing that actually even goes to an inconsistency that possibly could get to an implied waiver. And there’s not a hint in the decision that they thought they were talking about the explicit waiver that your question alludes to.”

Clement emphasized under tough questioning from Justices Breyer and Kagan that there was no dispute about the arbitration agreement’s existence, and attempts to resolve state law issues preliminarily under such circumstances belong with arbitrators, at one point invoking to Breyer the opinion the justice wrote on arbitrator versus court determinations in Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., 537 U.S. 79 (2002) (available at https://bit.ly/2yiejeh).

“The arbitration agreement is valid,” said Clement. “Nobody questions that.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked whether the failure to raise the arbitration defense to a court action in the first responsive pleading could be a review standard for waiver, but Clement rejected it. He said it wasn’t fair to his client. “[If you want to write an opinion in my client’s favor and suggest to the rules committee that they amend the rules to give clear notice to parties, then I could live with that.”

Clement followed up when Kavanaugh pressed further to note that the line drawn by courts generally isn’t the first responsive pleading, but when there already has been extensive discovery.

Kagan returned to Clement’s point that missing a deadline would satisfy FAA Sec. 3’s requirement that a stay wouldn’t be issued if the party asking for the stay was in default. “Where does this federal common law rule come from as to what counts as default?” she asked.

“It’s a gloss on the statutory phrase ‘in default,’” responded the former solicitor general, “and I think everybody agrees ‘default’ means you violated a legal obligation.”

Justice Sotomayor recounted Sundance’s moves in the matter, and maintained that the company intentionally waived arbitration to see how it would do in litigation, and then reversed course.  Clement resisted, but noted also countered that the strategy was sound and adhered to its arbitration contract.  

He responded:

I think what the parties bargained for here was not just arbitration but bilateral arbitration. And when the other side decides not just to violate the arbitration agreement but to seek a nationwide collective action, I think my client is perfectly within its rights, and it’s what I would advise my client to do under the circumstances[–]don’t make a motion to compel arbitration because you might get a motion to compel nationwide collective arbitration, and pretty much every defendant on the planet agrees that’s the worst of both worlds. So you wait.

Sotomayor said that Sundance should have raised that objection in its motion to compel.

“I suppose we could have,” responded Kirkland’s Paul Clement, “and with the benefit of that additional advice, maybe that’s what I’d tell my clients to do. But I’d still say, OK, at worst, we failed to make a motion. At worst, we’re in the realm of forfeiture, and we still have the ability to make this motion under [FAA] Sec. 3.”

The case is expected to be decided before the Court’s current term ends in June.  The audio of Supreme Court oral arguments, as well as transcripts, can be found here. For more background on Morgan, see Russ Bleemer, “The Supreme Court’s Six-Pack Is Set to Refine Arbitration Practice,” 40 Alternatives 17 (February 2022) (available here), and Mark Kantor, “U.S. Supreme Court Adds an Arbitration Issue: Is Proof of Prejudice Needed to Defeat a Motion to Compel?” CPR Speaks (Nov. 15, 2021) (available here).

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

[END]

Supreme Court Preview:  Monday’s Morgan Argument Expected to Define When a Party Waives Its Contractual Rights, Kicking Off Two Weeks of #Scotus #Arbitration Cases

By Russ Bleemer

Monday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court arguments in Morgan v. Sundance Inc., No. 21-328, are the opening act for two weeks in which the nation’s top Court will take a deep dive into arbitration law and practice.

The Court’s unprecedented 2021-2022 term arbitration docket includes six cases, two of which are consolidated into one argument which also will take place next week.

Morgan involves the extent to which a federal court may defer to an arbitration agreement under the Federal Arbitration Act. 

Following the March 21 Morgan case arguments, and before the calendar turns to April, the Court will hear

  • On Wednesday, March 23, the consolidated arguments, including the U.S. Solicitor General, in ZF Automotive US Inc. v. Luxshare Ltd., No. 21-401, and AlixPartners LLP v. The Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518, international cases on the application of 28 U.S.C. § 1782 discovery to overseas arbitration;
  • On Monday, March 28, Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, No. 21-309, an FAA Sec. 1 question, “Whether workers who load or unload goods from vehicles that travel in interstate commerce, but do not physically transport such goods themselves, are interstate ‘transportation workers’ exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act.”
  • On Wednesday, March 31, Viking River Cruises Inc. v. Moriana, 20-1573, whether the FAA requires enforcement of a bilateral arbitration agreement providing that an employee cannot raise representative claims under the California Private Attorneys General Act, which, like a class action, allows employees to seek monetary awards on a representative basis on behalf of other employees.      

A Nov. 3 arbitration case, Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, awaits decision.  The case is expected to address the limits of federal court jurisdiction on confirming and overturning arbitration awards under the FAA. For more, see Russ Bleemer, “Supreme Court Hears Badgerow, and Leans to Allowing Federal Courts to Broadly Decide on Arbitration Awards and Challenges,” CPR Speaks (Nov. 2) (available here).

The Court’s calendar with the arguments’ timing is available here; the arguments will be available live, audio only, via www.supremecourt.gov.

The first of this month’s arbitration matters, Morgan, will examine the question whether a defendant’s actions are enough to constitute a waiver of a contractual arbitration, or if the plaintiff must show prejudice to his, her or its case.  The matter is expected to decide a circuit split.

The specific issue will be “Does the arbitration-specific requirement that the proponent of a contractual waiver defense prove prejudice violate this Court’s instruction [in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011)] that lower courts must ‘place arbitration agreements on an equal footing with other contracts?’”

The plaintiff is a former Taco Bell employee who is arguing that the defendant franchise owner had forfeited its right to arbitrate her wage claims by litigating the case.  An Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision held that the employee was not prejudiced by the franchise owner’s pursuit of litigation before arbitration.

Business groups have filed amicus briefs backing the Taco Bell franchisee.  They include the Washington Legal Foundation, the Restaurant Law Center, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

The petitioner-employee is supported by five amicus briefs. The briefs are from the American Association for Justice; the National Academy of Arbitrators; state attorneys general representing 18 states and the District of Columbia; Public Citizen; and a group of 31 U.S. law professors.  For more on the law professors’ views, see Richard Frankel, “Working with Waiver: Supreme Court to Review Law on When an Employer Drops and then Reinstates Arbitration,” 40 Alternatives 43 (March 2022) (available here). All of the amicus briefs are available on the Supreme Court’s Morgan docket page, linked at the top of this page.

For more on Morgan, see Mark Kantor, “U.S. Supreme Court Adds an Arbitration Issue: Is Proof of Prejudice Needed to Defeat a Motion to Compel?” CPR Speaks (Nov. 15) (available here).

For articles on the individual cases the Court will hear discussed above, use the CPR Speaks search function and search on the case names and/or Supreme Court on the upper right of this page.  For a summary and discussion of all of the cases, and an analysis of the Court’s arbitration caseload, see 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.

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The author edits Alternatives for the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution, which is published with John Wiley & Sons in print, on Lexis and Westlaw, and archived in the Wiley Online Library at altnewsletter.com.

[END]

#CPRAM22 Highlights: Hot Topics/Initiatives in ADR

By Andrew Ling

Lucila Hemmingsen, a partner in the New York office of King & Spalding practicing international commercial and investment arbitration and public international law, moderated a third-day CPR Annual Meeting panel on cutting-edge topics in ADR. The panel focused on arbitration cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, new arbitration legislation, an initiative to reduce arbitration’s carbon footprint, and diversity in ADR.

Hemmingsen was joined at the March 4 online #CPRAM22 session by three panelists:

  • Angela Downes, who is assistant director of experiential education and professor of practice law at University of North Texas Dallas College of Law;
  • Benjamin Graham, an associate at Williams & Connolly, in Washington, D.C., who focuses on complex commercial litigation and international arbitration. He has represented sovereign states and multinational corporations in investment-treaty disputes before ICSID and commercial disputes before leading arbitral institutions, and
  • Rachel Gupta, a mediator and arbitrator with her own New York City-based ADR practice, Gupta Dispute Resolutions. She is a mediator for state and federal court ADR panels and is an arbitrator and panelist for CPR, the American Arbitration Association, and FINRA.

Graham and Downes began the discussion by reviewing arbitration cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Downes highlighted Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., No. 19-963, in which the question concerned whether a delegation provision in an arbitration agreement constitutes clear and unmistakable evidence that the parties intend the arbitral tribunal to decide questions of arbitrability.

Traditionally, courts are presumed to decide whether a dispute is subject to arbitration, phrased as the “question of arbitrability.” But in recent Supreme Court decisions, the Court has looked at the parties’ agreement and allowed the arbitral tribunal to decide questions of arbitrability if there is clear and unmistakable evidence indicating parties’ intent to delegate the authority to arbitrators.

Panelist Angela Downes said she views the fundamental Henry Schein issue as the drafting of the arbitration agreement, noting that disputes often arise when the agreement or provision lacks clarity. She pointed out that the case, which was dismissed a month after the oral arguments in January 2021 in a one-line opinion in which the Court said that it had “improvidently granted” review in the case, leave the status of delegation agreement still unsettled enough for potential future litigation.

Rachel Gupta then led the discussion on recent legislation on arbitration, focusing on H.R. 4445, titled Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021.

The panel discussed the Congressional backdrop to the bill, which was signed into by President Biden on March 3, the day before the panel discussion. In many employment contracts, employees have been bound by arbitration agreements and prohibited from bringing sexual harassment claims to a court. Arbitration proceedings are generally confidential, and the amount of an arbitral award tends to be lower than the damages rendered by a court. And when parties settle the dispute, employees are usually required to sign non-disclosure agreements. As a result, victims of sexual harassment are often silenced.

There are four amendments to the Federal Arbitration Act. First, it does not categorically ban arbitration agreements between employers and employees, but it allows plaintiffs to bring sexual harassment claims to courts. Second, plaintiffs have the option to bring the case individually or on behalf of a class, even if the employer’s arbitration agreement prohibits class arbitration. Third, FAA applicability will be decided by a federal court, not the arbitral tribunal. Finally, the amendments are retroactive.

Gupta pointed out that the bill does not address non-disclosure agreements. Angela Downes said she believed the omission was intended as a compromise to gain bipartisan support for the bill. In addition, many lawmakers and sexual harassment victims view binding arbitration agreements as the cause of the “broken system,” not the non-disclosure agreements.

The new law, the panel suggested, could drastically change employment arbitration practices. As Rachel Gupta commented, it will be interesting to observe if lawmakers intend to make similar amendments to other areas of arbitration, such as consumer class arbitration.

On reducing arbitration’s carbon footprint, Gupta first discussed the Campaign for Greener Arbitrations, founded by U.K. arbitrator Lucy Greenwood in 2019. The Campaign developed a set of Green Protocols to reduce the environmental impact of international arbitrations, such as using electronic correspondence and organizing virtual conferences.

Moderator Hemmingsen shared several changes in international arbitration practice: sending iPads to arbitrators instead of papers; reducing in-person meetings, and using advanced technology to take construction-site photos instead of traveling. She also predicted that more conferences and hearings would be held virtually.

The panel concluded by discussing diversity and inclusion among arbitrators and mediators. There have been several initiatives on appointing diverse neutrals and offering training and networking opportunities, such as the Ray Corollary Initiative, the JAMS Diversity Fellowship Program, New York Diversity and Inclusion Neutral Directory, the ADR Inclusion Network, and the Equal Representation in Arbitration pledge. Many arbitral institutions have taken action to place more women in arbitration panels. And CPR incorporated a “Young Lawyer” Rule in its Administered, Non-Administered and International Arbitration Rules to increase opportunities for junior lawyers to take a more active role in arbitration hearings (see Rule 12.5 in the rules available at https://www.cpradr.org/resource-center/rules/arbitration).

The panelists agreed that promoting diversity among arbitrators and mediators must be a concerted effort from ADR providers, arbitrators, law firms, and clients. Progress in diversity and inclusion is needed to grow the profession and benefit the next generation of ADR practitioners.

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The author, a third-year law student at the University of Texas School of Law, in Austin, Texas, is a CPR 2022 Spring Intern.

[END]

Getting Online Justice, from AALS’s Annual Meeting

By Ellen Waldman

At the January American Association of Law Schools annual meeting, the organization’s Section on Alternative Dispute  Resolution teamed with the Section on Commercial Law and Consumer Law, and the Section on Creditors’ and Debtors’ Rights, to host a panel discussion titled “Online Dispute Resolution in the Post-Pandemic Era.”

The virtual panel featured speakers Alicia  Bannon from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School in New York City; Prof. Jean Sternlight from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez, of Texas’s Southern District in Houston. The moderators were Prof. Christopher Bradley of the University of Kentucky’s J. David Rosenberg College of Law, in Lexington, Ky., and Prof. Amy Schmitz from Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, in Columbus, Ohio.

Noting that the pandemic pushed many forms of dispute resolution, including trials, into a virtual format, the panel focused its attention on both the promise and peril of widespread adoption of online dispute resolution. 

On the promise side of the ledger, panelists agreed that the shift to virtual platforms had the potential to increase the ease with which disputants could access dispute resolution proceedings, cutting down on cost, time and inconvenience. 

Judge Lopez, who presides over roughly 3,000 individual and corporate bankruptcies and, as of the conference, had conducted about 20 online mediations since proceedings went virtual in early 2020, was particularly enthusiastic about his court’s use of online evidentiary hearings and mediations. He observed that that stressed debtors juggling multiple jobs and parenting commitments need not take time off from work in order to “go to court.” 

Allowing litigants the option to tune-in from their computers and cell phones conserved scarce time and money, helping debtors, in Lopez’s view, “keep their cars” and “stay in their houses.”

But panelists agreed that the rush to pivot online was not without its perils. Alicia Bannon, co-author of a report on best-practice  principles for remote court proceedings, noted that the balance courts were   being asked to strike was delicate: how best to adhere  to public health guidelines while continuing to serve constituent communities, and to expand efficiencies while preserving  fairness.

Courts, she suggested, should not be going it alone, but should engage with a diverse array of stakeholders, including, as noted in the report, “community advocates, public defenders and prosecutors, civil legal service providers, tenant representatives, survivors of domestic violence, public health experts, disability rights advocates, court employees, and more.”  

The panelists emphasized the traditional courthouse as a place where litigants access legal information and guidance, and suggested that alternative forms of support needed to be built into remote proceedings.  Pro se litigants were a particular source of concern as, in addition to being unfamiliar with the justice system, they may have limited computer literacy and may struggle with accessing and engaging with the required technology.

Recognizing and attending to the digital divide was a consistent theme. For those litigants with counsel and a sophisticated mastery of video-camera technique, online proceedings present obvious benefits.  But, for those without counsel and no easy access to or understanding of computer-assisted communication, the dangers presented are equally obvious. Static reception, dropped calls, an inconsistent or shaky camera, distracting background visuals and ambient noise all influence a  disputant’s ability to communicate, absorb information, and engage with other dispute resolution participants.

And, if one aim of dispute resolution procedures is to foster a disputant’s sense of procedural justice–the experience of having a voice and being heard–technology failures can render that goal  impossible.

Prof. Sternlight in particular emphasized the importance of adopting a context-sensitive approach.  Drawing on her research into the psychological impacts of varied forms of technology with co-author Jennifer Robbennolt, Sternlight suggested that different communication channels affect disputant behavior and experience in important ways. 

For example, certain modes of communication are better suited to the expression and understanding of emotion. We can “read” upset or anger better in face-to-face or even video-conference meetings, as  opposed to text or email exchanges.

Similarly, the perceived anonymity of an Internet-based communique can disinhibit disputants who would otherwise maintain a more polite discourse. Asynchronous technological formats such as email can slow down exchanges, leading to more thoughtful and deliberate decision-making. But the leanness of the medium and lack of interpersonal cues can lead to conflict escalation where rapport or goodwill in the relationship is lacking. 

At an earlier moment in dispute resolution’s development, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law Emeritus Prof. Stephen Goldberg and the late Frank Sander of Harvard Law School advocated for a form of triage where policymakers considered both a dispute’s characteristics and the particular attributes of litigation, arbitration, and mediation, and “matched the forum to the  fuss.” Stephen B. Goldberg & Frank E.A. Sander, “Fitting the forum to the fuss: Factors to consider when selecting an ADR procedure,” 12 Alternatives 48 (April 1994) (available at https://bit.ly/3sAj8sT).  

In today’s environment, panelists urged that we similarly match our technologies to the “fusses” that face us.  When determining whether a dispute should be handled in-person, by phone, via video-conference or through an Internet chat, decision-makers must consider their goals for the process, the characteristics of the disputants, and the nature of the dispute or particular task at hand. See Jean R. Sternlight & Jennifer K. Robbennolt, “High-Tech Dispute Resolution: Lessons from Psychology for a Post-Covid-19 Era,” DePaul Law Review (forthcoming) (Sept. 9, 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/3HPjqBx).

All the speakers acknowledged that online dispute resolution proceedings pose new, previously unknown questions. Judge Lopez said that he has been spending a great deal of time thinking through the confidentiality issues that arise when litigants screen-share sensitive financial information that can be easily photographed and distributed.

He also noted that judges had to ensure that there was no “home court” advantage, and that litigants appearing in person receive no special attention compared to those appearing virtually.  Panelist Alicia  Bannon called attention to a study conducted in an immigration court that revealed detainees appearing virtually in immigration proceedings were more likely to be deported than those facing the judge in person.  Appearing by video alone, however, apparently was not the determinative factor. Rather, those detainees who accessed court via video-conference also accessed legal services at lower rates than their “in-person” counterparts and seemed generally less engaged with the judicial process. In this way, the perception that online proceedings may provide a lessor form of justice becomes a self-fulfilling reality.

The discussion ended on a final point that resonated with the audience of educators. Courts need to train attorneys to be proficient with new online technologies and provide resources for disputants so that they can competently participate in virtual proceedings.

Similarly law schools need to emphasize technological competence as they work to prepare lawyers, mediators, arbitrators and other dispute resolution for our brave, new, online world.

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The author is Vice President, Advocacy & Educational Outreach at CPR.  Her bio on CPR’s website can be found here.

[END]

Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s ADR Work

By Tamia Sutherland and Russ Bleemer

President Biden’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, is well acquainted with conflict resolution’s role in legal practice from her law firm days.

The 51-year-old was elevated just last June to the appeals court by Biden, but has been on the bench since 2013, serving as a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C. She would be the first black woman Supreme Court justice if she is confirmed.

While her ADR-centric cases on the bench were few, Jackson–who clerked in 1999-2000 for Justice Stephen G. Breyer, whom she would replace, though she wasn’t at the Court for the justice’s seminal arbitration cases–has significant commercial conflict resolution work in her CV.

Most notably, while of counsel in the Washington office of Morrison & Foerster, Jackson did extensive work on the seminal case of Hall Street Associates LLC v. Mattel Inc., 552 U.S. 576 (2008) (available at http://bit.ly/38ELtSU), successfully preserving respondent Mattel’s arbitration award (pending additional court review) and standing for the proposition that the parties cannot expand the scope of review for an award because it is contrary to the Federal Arbitration Act’s mission.

Jackson’s MoFo litigation department work, on both the civil and criminal sides, was preceded by two years as an associate at one of the nation’s highest-profile commercial conflict resolution practices with mediator Kenneth Feinberg.  Jackson was an associate in Feinberg’s Washington firm, then known as the Feinberg Group, in 2002-2003, in the midst of Feinberg’s best-known case, when he served as special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001. Congress established the fund to aid victims and survivors of the 9/11 attacks; the fund used mediation-style processes to reach out to potential claimants, and evaluated applications, determined appropriate compensation, and disseminated awards.

Judge Jackson described her work at the firm in her Senate Judiciary Committee Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees ahead of a hearing on her nomination last April:

While at the Feinberg Group, I assisted in the negotiated (non-litigation) resolution of mass tort claims. I attended arbitration proceedings and advised client corporations regarding trust payment structures for
resolving mass-tort liability, such as asbestos claims.

She noted later in her disclosure, “my typical clients were large corporations facing mass tort liability. I specialized in mediation and arbitration procedures and in the evaluation of trust structures for the settlement of current and potential (future) tort claims.” She noted that she did not appear in court while working at the firm.

“I recall quite well the superlative legal skills of Judge Jackson while a member of the Feinberg Group Law Firm,” notes Ken Feinberg in an email. He continues:

Ketanji was involved in a series of matters relating to ADR: asbestos mediation, Dow-Corning breast implants mediations and some work on the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Quite apart from her obvious legal skills, she proved to be a creative lawyer looking for paths to resolve complex mass tort litigation outside of the conventional legal system. She quickly recognized that mediation, arbitration and negotiation were cost effective, efficient and an abbreviated way to “get to yes.”

Feinberg concludes, “It was clear to me some 20 years ago that she was destined for greatness.”

* * *

Jackson was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court by the Senate 53-44 on June 14. In a statement this morning, the White House noted that the president “sought a candidate with exceptional credentials, unimpeachable character, and unwavering dedication to the rule of law,” but also noted, in anticipation of a close confirmation vote, that “Judge Jackson has been confirmed by the Senate with votes from Republicans as well as Democrats three times.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D., N.Y., told reporters Friday afternoon he will seek “a prompt hearing” by the Senate Judiciary Committee, to be followed quickly by Senate confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court seat.

* * *

Judge Jackson further detailed her ADR work in her Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire. She listed on her questionnaire the sole arbitration case for which she wrote an opinion, CEF Energia B.V. v. Italian Republic, No. 19-cv-3443 (KBJ) (D.D.C. Jul. 23, 2020).  In the case, Jackson granted Italy’s request to decline to confirm arbitration awards.  The two awards in favor of four energy companies against the Italian government were stayed in a Sweden court pending Italy’s challenge to the award, and the companies sought enforcement before Judge Jackson.

Jackson conducted an analysis of the power to stay proceedings in the United States while a foreign arbitral matter is continuing under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, best known as the New York Convention. 

Noting “the ongoing set-aside proceedings that are taking place in Sweden (the primary jurisdiction of the parties’ arbitrations) and the significant interests in judicial economy and international comity that weigh in favor of staying this case,” Jackson stayed the confirmation decision pending the outcome in Sweden.

She wrote that a federal district court “must recognize and enforce a foreign arbitral award ‘unless it finds one of the grounds for refusal or deferral of recognition or enforcement of the award specified in the said Convention.’” 9 U.S.C. § 207. Furthermore, Jackson found that “a court ‘may refuse to enforce the award only on the grounds explicitly set forth in Article V of the Convention.’”

The applicable grounds for refusal Jackson highlighted from Article V of the New York Convention, were that the agreement is not valid if (1) “award …has been set aside or suspended by a competent authority of the country in which … that award was made[,]” or (2) recognition or enforcement… would be contrary to the public policy of that country. New York Convention Art. V(1)(e), Art. V(2)(b).

But Judge Jackson’s holding to stay the confirmation was supported by her findings that the interest of the judicial economy, and the test in Europcar Italia S.P.A. v. Maiellano Tours, 156 F.3d 310 (2d Cir. 1998), which she wrote weighed in favor of staying the case. Quoting Naegele v. Albers, 355 F. Supp.2d 129, 141 (D.D.C. 2005), Jackson stated that  “[l]itigating essentially the same issues in two separate forums is not in the interest of judicial economy or in the parties’ best interests.”

In concluding her point that the interest of the judicial economy weighed in favor of staying the case, she acknowledged the length of time that had elapsed and wrote:

This Court fully understands that Petitioners have been pursuing recompense from Italy since 2015 and that the resolution in the [Sweden] Court may take one to two more years. . . . But it is not at all clear that proceeding with the instant litigation will necessarily lead to a faster resolution of the complex issues that must be determined prior to enforcing the awards. …

Judge Jackson carefully analyzed each of the six Europcar factors in deciding whether to stay an action under Article VI of the New York Convention in relation to the CEF Energia B.V. facts, concluding that the Europcar factors weighed in favor of staying the case.

She also noted that the European litigation over the awards stemmed from the controversial European Court decision in Slovak Republic v. Achmea B.V., Case C-284/16 (2018) (available at https://bit.ly/2Kf8OmM), in which the court found that “intra-[European Union] treaty arbitration provisions are invalid to the extent that they prohibit judicial review of EU law by EU courts.” Achmea concerned cases under the Energy Charter Treaty—the treaty under which the CEF Energia B.V. arbitrations were conducted.

* * *

In addition to CEF Energia, B.V. v. Italian Republic, Judge Jackson had eight other arbitration-focused cases on her docket covering a range of arbitration issues. In Metropolitan Municipality of Lima v. Rutas De Lima S.A.C. Jackson presided over an issue regarding Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, where the city of Lima, Peru, petitioned and moved for an order vacating an arbitral award that was rendered in favor of the respondent, a contractor. The matter was reassigned to Judge Florence Y. Pan before Jackson could rule on the merits.  

The other cases mostly involved confirmation proceedings.

* * *

Here is how Judge Jackson described her work on Hall Street Associates from her Senate Judiciary questionnaire:

From 2007 to 2008, I was part of a litigation team that represented respondent Mattel in a Supreme Court case involving the section of the Federal Arbitration Act that grants expedited judicial review to confirm, vacate, or modify an arbitration award. I was responsible for reviewing the factual record related to the subject matter of the underlying arbitration, and I drafted parts of both the primary brief for respondent and two supplemental briefs on specified issues the Supreme Court ordered. I also assisted in the preparation of oral argument counsel. The Supreme Court ultimately agreed with Mattel’s argument that the Act’s grounds for vacatur and modification of arbitration awards are exclusive for parties seeking expedited review under the FAA, but remanded the case for a determination regarding whether the parties did, in fact, intend for the arbitration proceeding at issue to be governed by the FAA.

She listed the case as one the 10 most significant litigated matters she has worked on in her career on the Senate Judiciary questionnaire.

The case is often cited for limiting the ability of parties to contract for review of their arbitration awards, though it does not apply to arbitration awards written solely under state laws, where, at least theoretically, parties could contract for expanded review under some circumstances.

Hall Street Associates also left alive the judicial standard of “manifest disregard” of the law for overturning awards under FAA Section 10, which commentators have urged needs clarification.  See, e.g., Stuart M. Boyarsky, “The Uncertain Status of the Manifest Disregard Standard One Decade after Hall Street,” 123 Dick. L. Rev. 167 (2018) (available at https://bit.ly/3slmLTk), and Michael H. LeRoy, “Are Arbitrators Above the Law? The ‘Manifest Disregard of the Law’ Standard,” 52 B.C. L.Rev. 137 (2011) (available at https://bit.ly/3ImK05i).  

The 116-page Senate Judiciary Questionnaire prepared by Judge Jackson containing descriptions of her professional work and education history can be found at https://bit.ly/35vbFSJ.

* * *

Sutherland, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021-22 intern. Bleemer edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for CPR.

[END]

Justice Breyer’s ADR Legacy

By Andrew Ling

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s retirement announcement last month puts the focus on his replacement, but it also requires looking back at the justice’s record. Serving more than two decades on the Court, he has made important contributions to U.S. jurisprudence on arbitration, in both domestic and international contexts.

Breyer officially retired on Jan. 27, just ahead of the Court’s winter recess.  It returns this week, with an opinion expected soon on the one arbitration case argued so far this year, Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143 (see Russ Bleemer, “Supreme Court Hears Badgerow, and Leans to Allowing Federal Courts to Broadly Decide on Arbitration Awards and Challenges,” CPR Speaks (Nov. 2)), and four more arbitration arguments slated for next month.  See Russ Bleemer, “The Supreme Court’s Six‐Pack Is Set to Refine Arbitration Practice,” 40 Alternatives 17 (February 2022) (available on open access at https://bit.ly/3GDEJEK).

In 1995, in his second year on the bench, Breyer drafted two frequently cited Federal Arbitration Act opinions. In the first, Allied-Bruce Terminix Companies, Inc. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265 (1995) (available at https://bit.ly/3uUcJu5), Breyer wrote that the FAA applies to all transactions involving interstate commerce, even if the parties did not contemplate an interstate commerce connection.

The holding endorsed a broad FAA reading—specifically on 9 U. S. C. § 2,  which “makes enforceable a written arbitration provision in “a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce.”

In First Options of Chicago Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938 (1995) (available at http://bit.ly/2WEXGnF), Breyer set up the general principle that courts, not arbitrators, should decide whether a dispute is subject to arbitration, phrased as the “question of arbitrability.”

To submit questions of arbitrability to arbitration, there must be clear and unmistakable evidence indicating such intent from the parties. As Columbia Law Prof. George Bermann commented, First Options recognizes “the fundamental importance of consent to arbitrate,” and guarantees parties’ rights to an independent judicial determination. See George A. Bermann, “After First Options: Delegation Run Amok,” American Review of International Arbitration (Sep. 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/3oV54bb).

By contrast, when an issue does not raise a question of arbitrability, it should be presumptively decided by an arbitrator. In Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79 (2002) (available at https://bit.ly/2yiejeh), Justice Breyer wrote that a FINRA time-limit rule for submission to arbitration is a procedural issue that an arbitral tribunal should decide. This approach achieves a balance between respecting arbitrators’ authority and parties’ consent to arbitrate.

Justice Breyer is recognized as an international arbitration authority. As he argued in his 2015 book, “The Court and The World: American Law and the New Global Realities” (Penguin Random House), the Court must look at foreign and international laws in today’s increasingly interdependent world.

Breyer put his philosophy to use in the investment treaty case of BG Group PLC v. Argentina, 572 U.S. 25 (2014) (available at https://bit.ly/3LIfLb8). The matter dealt with an enforcement action of a foreign investment arbitral award. Breyer, writing for the 6-2 Court, held that a treaty precondition to arbitration is a procedural issue that usually leaves the arbitral tribunal to decide, and the court should defer to the tribunal’s decision on that matter.

But the view was expansive. Breyer cited multiple international authorities and wrote that a bilateral investment treaty should not be treated differently from a contract.

Washington, D.C.-based Paul Hastings partner Igor Timofeyev praised the opinion for bringing predictability to the enforcement of investment arbitral awards in the U.S. See Caroline Simson, “Justice Breyer Set Many Standards for Arbitration Community,” Law 360 (Jan. 27) (available at https://bit.ly/3oSQoJO).

Justice Breyer’s arbitration opinions also reflect his often-noted pragmatic streak. He drafted majority opinions on class arbitration, such as Green Tree Financial Corp. v. Bazzle, 539 U.S. 444 (2003) (available at https://bit.ly/33putSQ) (designating that the decision on the contract in the case about the applicability of class arbitration was for the arbitrators, not the court), and Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407 (2019) (available at https://bit.ly/3696Cb2) (finding that “Like silence, ambiguity does not provide a sufficient basis to conclude that parties to an arbitration agreement agreed to ‘sacrifice[ ] the principal advantage of arbitration,’” and reaffirming that “courts may not infer consent to participate in class arbitration absent an affirmative ‘contractual basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so.’”)

But Justice Breyer also sometimes found himself in the minority. In the seminal consumer arbitration case, AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 133 (2011) (available at https://bit.ly/3LEpkHV), the Court ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act preempted California arbitration law, which barred class arbitration. While Breyer drafted a dissenting opinion in the case, he upheld and applied Concepcion in his majority decision in DIRECTV Inc. v. Imburgia, 577 U.S. 47 (2015) (available at https://bit.ly/3gS8DKQ). He wrote,

No one denies that lower courts must follow this Court’s holding in Concepcion. The fact that Concepcion was a closely divided case, resulting in a decision from which four Justices dissented, has no bearing on that undisputed obligation. Lower court judges are certainly free to note their disagreement with a decision of this Court. But the “Supremacy Clause forbids state courts to dissociate themselves from federal law because of disagreement with its content or a refusal to recognize the superior authority of its source.” . . . The Federal Arbitration Act is a law of the United States, and Concepcion is an authoritative interpretation of that Act. Consequently, the judges of every State must follow it.

For Justice Breyer, “it’s the court’s job to help make government work for real people,” according to a former law clerk. See Richard Wolf, “After 20 Years, Breyer Is High Court’s Raging Pragmatist,” USA Today (Aug. 7, 2014) (available at https://bit.ly/3GTfu1m).

In Breyer’s view, by following judicial precedents, the Court contributes to social stability and allows people to plan their lives. He said, “The law might not be perfect but if you’re changing it all the time people won’t know what to do, and the more you change it the more people will ask to have it changed, and the more the court hears that, the more they’ll change it.” Andrew Chung, “U.S. Justice Breyer Touts Compromise, Democracy, Adherence to Precedent,” Reuters (May 28, 2021) (available at https://reut.rs/3Ju4Wr4).

* * *

The author, a third-year law student at the University of Texas School of Law, in Austin, Texas, is a CPR 2022 Spring Intern.

[END]

Practice and Power: Highlights from NYLS’s ADR and Diversity Symposium

By Tamia Sutherland

New York Law School’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program annual ADR and Diversity Symposium featured a former New York governor and a lineup of prominent practitioners and legal organization officials.

The Jan. 27 event presented keynoter David A. Patterson, the 55th governor of New York who served from 2008-2010. It also featured speakers and an expert roundtable panel that discussed diversity in ADR, their experiences, and the legal profession more broadly.

Following welcoming remarks, Patterson’s keynote speech highlighted the need for discussions like the symposium, sharing personal stories about his first mediation job in the early 1970s and working for the NAACP in the early 1980s. He explained that he transferred the skills he learned in ADR to his position as governor. And the skills were instrumental when working with the New York Senate Majority Leader and Assembly Speaker in efforts to balance the state budget.

Next, Deborah Enix-Ross, the American Bar Association’s president-elect and senior adviser in international dispute resolution at New York-based Debevoise & Plimpton, provided ABA history. She shared that in 1912, the ABA rescinded the membership of William H. Lewis, the first black Assistant U.S. Attorney, and restricted membership to white lawyers only.  ABA membership, she explained, was restricted until a resolution passed in 1946 that stated that membership is not dependent on race, creed, or color.  

Enix-Ross also provided information on the ABA’s 2018 resolution that urged domestic and international dispute resolution providers to expand their rosters with minorities, women, people with disabilities, and people of diverse sexual orientation/gender identities. She encouraged the selection of diverse neutrals.

Then, Thomas Maroney, the ADR Committee Chair of the Defense Research Institute, a 52-year-old Chicago-based membership organization of defense attorneys and in-house counsel, discussed insurance industry diversity initiatives. One of DRI’s main goals, he said, is to gather ADR diversity data and put it in a central database. More specifically, he said the data will show national data averages for appointments of underrepresented neutrals, which will help insurance companies assess and identify which law firms are increasing the frequency of appointments of underrepresented neutrals.

An expert roundtable panel, followed, moderated by Rekha Rangachari, the Executive Director of the New York Arbitration Center, a nonprofit that promotes New York’s role in international arbitration, and Jeffrey T. Zaino, Vice President of the Labor, Employment and Elections Division of the American Arbitration Association in New York. The panelists included:

After the panelists introduced themselves and the organizations they represent, the moderators began with a question inquiring about what is not working in the profession and whether continued discussions about diversity issues make a significant difference. Panelist Duggal explained that in ADR, the central tension lies with the fact that a major tenant of the processes is self-selection. Panelist Gupta flipped the question, and talked about how the profession has succeeded and is working to introduce younger neutrals to the field.

Moderators then asked should diversity discussions move past gender and race. The panelists explained that the conversation has to move beyond gender and race, especially when examining diversity from a global lens.

Panelist Duggal stated that power structures globally are generally held by Caucasians. The concept of global white supremacy was raised. The moderators countered with a question, inquiring whether white male arbitrators are being excluded from diversity initiatives.

In response, a panelist stated that the answer is yes, assuming the hypothetical white male is straight, healthy, and able-bodied. Moreover, the panelist acknowledged feelings of exclusion and suggested therapy and vocalization to reveal the triggers that may be coming from a hostile place internally.

The last question to the panelists was how far one could actually push ADR users—that is, in-house counsel–to select diverse neutrals. The themes from the answers suggest using education, awareness, networking, and bringing the problem and solution to light.

* * *

The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2022 Spring Intern.

[END]

Senate Sends Bill Restricting Arbitration for Workplace Sexual Assault Victims for Biden’s Signature

By Tamia Sutherland & Russ Bleemer

The U.S. Senate passed H.R. 4445, Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021, this morning on a voice vote.

The bill had bipartisan support in both legislative chambers and quickly cleared the 60-vote procedural step to advance in the Senate. The House had passed the bill on Monday by a vote of 335-97.

President Biden has signaled he will sign the bill, which will take effect immediately. The Office of Management and Budget expressed the administration’s support in a Statement of Administration Policy letter, published Feb. 1, noting, “This bipartisan, bicameral legislation empowers survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment by giving them a choice to go to court instead of being forced into arbitration.”

The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act invalidates pre-dispute arbitration agreements and waivers of joint proceedings for individuals alleging conduct constituting a sexual harassment dispute or sexual assault. It effectively overrides employment contracts that require arbitration and allows all cases which include sexual assault or harassment claims to be resolved in court, despite the signed agreement containing an arbitration clause.

The language targets predispute arbitration agreements and predispute joint-action waivers, but not ad hoc or post-dispute processes. In fact, the law apparently allows employees an option to stay in existing arbitration agreements, noting at the outset that an arbitration clause will not be valid “at the election of the person alleging conduct constituting a sexual harassment dispute or sexual assault dispute, or the named representative of a class or in a collective action alleging such conduct. . . .” The law focuses on the filing of cases; a determination of the arbitrability of matters is sent by the law to courts, not arbitrators. . . .”

In introducing the bill this morning, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D., N.Y., noted the bipartisan agreement on the bill, and emphasized that it will apply retroactively.  The law states that it “shall apply with respect to any dispute or claim that arises or accrues on or after the date of enactment of this Act.” Said Schumer, “That’s an important point that hasn’t gotten enough attention.”

The text of the bill is available here.

Arbitration clauses in employment contracts have been characterized by legislators as “forced” and were discussed in depth at the Nov. 16 House Judiciary hearing, “Silenced: How Forced Arbitration Keeps Victims of Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Shadows.” A blog post about the Nov. 16 hearing can be accessed here, and the hearing can be viewed in its entirety at https://bit.ly/3wTDLkf.

Some legislators and attorneys were worried that the proposed reforms could unwittingly fail in practice. There is concern because litigation can be more expensive; the bill does not prevent companies from forcing people to sign nondisclosure agreements that also could hide sexual misconduct allegations, and plaintiffs’ attorneys could be incentivized to include sexual harassment allegations in cases that have nothing to do with sexual harassment to evade arbitration.

“Unfortunately, some of the language in the statute is potentially ambiguous,” says Christopher C. Murray, a shareholder in the Indianapolis office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, and co-chair of the firm’s Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice Group. He explains:

Specifically, the statute bars enforcement of certain arbitration agreements with respect to “cases” relating to sexual harassment and sexual assault disputes.  The statute probably should state it bars enforcement of agreements with respect to ‘claims’ relating to sexual harassment and sexual assault disputes. Some plaintiffs’ counsel may try to make hay out of this ambiguous use of ‘cases’ and seek to expand the scope of the statute to bar the arbitration of other types of claims that happen to be in the same case. I expect that effort by plaintiffs’ counsel will ultimately be unsuccessful under cases like CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood, but the ambiguity may still result in some extra litigation in the short term. . There’s no indication the new law is intended to change the “Congressional command” analysis for claims under other federal statutes that have nothing to do with a sexual harassment or sexual assault dispute.

In CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood, 565 U.S. 95 (2012), the Supreme Court held that because the Credit Repair Organizations Act is silent on whether claims can be arbitrated, the Federal Arbitration Act required the plaintiff’s arbitration agreement to be enforced according to its terms. Moreover, the case stands for the proposition that an arbitration agreement should be enforced if the claims at issue are federal statutory claims, unless the mandate of the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1, et seq., has been overridden by a contrary Congressional command. Parties likely will dispute whether the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, which specifically amends the FAA, changes that analysis in any way for claims under federal statutes that do not relate to sexual harassment or assault.

* * *

The Senate also was concerned about the misuse of sexual assault and harassment claims to piggyback arbitrable claims into court, and this morning addressed the issue. 

Sen. Joni Ernst, R., Iowa, emphasized that the act should not be used for other workplace disputes. “Those claims are meaningfully different,” she said, emphasizing that if an employment agreement has a predispute arbitration provision and a sexual assault or harassment claim is brought with another claim, and the assault or harassment claim is later dismissed, “the court should remand the other claim back to the arbitration” system.

Ernst told the Senate that the presence of sexual assault or harassment claims “should not effectively destroy arbitration in employment litigation.”

Ernst pledged to work with Schumer and other senators, she said, “if there are indications that there is gaming of the system” by claimants or lawyers.

Sponsor Kirsten Gillibrand, D., N.Y., expressed appreciation for work on the bill by Ernst and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R., S.C., and agreed with Ernst’s cautions. “I do not believe that survivors of sexual assault and harassment will use the claims” to avoid arbitration, she said, adding, “If those claims on assault or harassment are dismissed, [victim claimants] will go back to arbitration.”

“But,” continued Gillibrand, “it is important that all claims related to assault or harassment are dealt with at the same time” to avoid sending victims to multiple forums. “If victims and attorneys break those rules, they can be sanctioned in court,” she said.

Ahead of the voice vote, Lindsey Graham said, “It does not hurt business to make sure that people harassed in the workplace [get justice]. It helps business.  . . . Arbitration has its place in business.  . . . [But] you’re not going to sign away your life.”

He concluded, “This is not bad for business. This is good for America.”

* * *

The passing of the Ending Forced Arbitration Act marks a significant national reform in the fight against sexual misconduct in the workplace that emerged from the bravery of the #MeToo movement.  It also may be a harbinger of more to come in terms of arbitration restrictions. The White House statement supporting the legislation, which now goes to the president’s desk to be signed into law, ended by noting,

The Administration also looks forward to working with the Congress on broader legislation that addresses these issues as well as other forced arbitration matters, including arbitration of claims regarding discrimination on the basis of race, wage theft, and unfair labor practices.

* * *

Sutherland, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021-22 intern.  Bleemer edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for CPR.

[END]

House Subcommittee Introduces Bill that Would Restrict Arbitration

By Tamia Sutherland

The House Committee on Education and Labor’s Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions held a Nov. 4 hearing on employment arbitration to introduce the “Restoring Justice for Workers Act.” The meeting and bill was presented by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D., Va., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D., N.Y.

The text of the Restoring Justice for Workers Act is available here. The act would

  • prohibit pre-dispute arbitration agreements that require arbitration of work disputes;
  • prohibit retaliation against workers for refusing to arbitrate work disputes;
  • provide protections to ensure that post-dispute arbitration agreements are truly voluntary and with the informed consent of workers;
  • amend the National Labor Relations Act to prohibit agreements and practices that interfere with employees’ right to engage in concerted activity regarding work disputes, and
  • reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Epic Systems Corp. v Lewis, available here. (Earlier this week, the Court agreed to hear a case that could clarify the extent of the seminal case’s application. For more, see Mark Kantor, “U.S. Supreme Court Adds an Arbitration Issue: Is Proof of Prejudice Needed to Defeat a Motion to Compel?” CPR Speaks (Nov. 15) (available at https://bit.ly/3FnfyGd).

The subcommittee meeting, “Closing the Courthouse Doors: The Injustice of Forced Arbitration Agreements,” began with an opening statement from committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D., Calif. Senior Georgia Republican committee  Rick W. Allan gave an opening statement, and then four witnesses provided testimony:

  1. Alexander Colvin, Dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University;
  2. Glenda Perez, Former Implementation Set-Up Representative at Cigna;
  3. G. Roger King, Senior Labor and Employment Counsel at the Arlington, Va.-based HR Policy Association, a nonprofit membership group of “over 390 large” corporations’ chief human resource officers; and
  4. Kalpana Kotagal, a Partner in Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll’s Washington, D.C., office.

First, Chairman DeSaulnier began by introducing the topic of “forced arbitration” agreements and collective action waivers, explaining that for many employees, employment documents “include an arbitration clause, hidden in the fine print,” which requires workers to sign the document or forgo employment.

Next, he provided data to support the assertion that the use of these agreements is widespread. He explained that “in 1990, 2.1% of non-union employees had an arbitration clause in their employment contracts . . . [and in] 2018, nearly 60% of all nonunionized private-sector employees were covered by forced arbitration agreements.”

Chairman DeSaulnier provided other examples of what he described as unfair practices and, finally, introduced the Restoring Justice for Workers Act as a solution.

Rep. Allan countered in his opening statement that the act is another instance of heavy-handed government reach that will be burdensome to employers and unfairly target job creators. Moreover, he asserted that the act would delay justice and continue to clog an already overrun court system.

Prof. Colvin, a longtime critic of mandatory arbitration processes, was the first witness to provide testimony. He provided statistics from his studies, cited at his link above, to show the increase use of arbitration, and how employees do worse in arbitration as opposed to the court. He also discussed how employees who use the arbitration process for the first time are at a structural disadvantage to companies who repeatedly use the process.

Next, Glenda Perez provided a personal account of her struggles with the arbitration process without a lawyer. Perez reported that she and her husband worked for Bloomfield, Conn.-based insurer Cigna from October 2013 to  July 2017. In April 2017, Cigna put her on a performance correction plan for work “errors” after meeting with her team on pharmacy benefits.

Her husband, a Cigna analyst, found evidence of errors by white women but none by his wife, according to Perez’s witness statement. She filed a discrimination complaint with Cigna’ human resources department. Typically, a full investigation takes 60 days, she reported, but in her statement, Perez said her investigation took one day, with human resources backing her manager’s claim. Two months later, she was fired.

Perez wanted to file a claim for discrimination and retaliation, but could not find an attorney to represent her in mandatory arbitration. She said she was forced to drive to a law library to do research while also taking care of her three children and looking for a new job. She claimed it took several months to choose an arbitrator.

Moreover, Perez reported, the arbitrator selected may have had a conflict of interest that was not disclosed. Perez’s testimony focused on arbitrator’s lack of impartiality. She reported that there are photos online of the arbitrator, and Cigna’s attorney, at the arbitrator’s 50th birthday party, which she filed with her committee testimony. Additionally, she testified, the arbitrator formerly worked for the firm representing Cigna and had Cigna’s counsel as a reference on his CV.

The arbitrator denied Perez’s request for materials to prove her case as Cigna claimed it would cost more than $1 million to retrieve “even though,” she said, “I was only requesting my employee personal profile.” Cigna moved for summary judgment, and then the arbitrator ruled in favor of Cigna, and canceled a hearing that had been scheduled. When Perez filed a motion to vacate the decision in court, she said Cigna fired her husband.

HR Policy Association attorney Roger King said that two of the legislation’s primary objectives are big mistakes and are a substantial overreach of congressional action. He explained that completely eliminating pre-dispute arbitration was a mistake, and a total prohibition on class-action waivers would be burdensome. Also, in response to Glenda Perez’s testimony, he asserted that generally, arbitrators are ethical.

Finally, Kalpana Kotagal testified that the justification for forced arbitration is predicated on myths because (1) there is no equal bargaining power in most forced arbitrations, (2) it burdens those who are already marginalized, (3) it is not speedy, and (4) it deters workers from bringing claims.

The meeting concluded with a Q&A from other committee members.

* * *

A video of the hearing, and witness statements, is available here. The Congressional repository page for the event can be found here.

* * *

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

[END]

U.S. Supreme Court Adds an Arbitration Issue: Is Proof of Prejudice Needed to Defeat a Motion to Compel?

By Mark Kantor

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and agreed to hear the petition in Morgan v. Sundance, Inc., No. 21-328, in which the Question Presented is:

Does the arbitration-specific requirement that the proponent of a contractual waiver defense prove prejudice violate this Court’s instruction [in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011)] that lower courts must “place arbitration agreements on an equal footing with other contracts?”

In this case, Robyn Morgan, an employee at an Osceola, Iowa, Taco Bell, brought a proposed Fair Labor Standards Act class action in court against employer Sundance Inc., a company that owns more than 150 Taco Bell franchises, according to Morgan’s cert petition.  

Morgan alleged in the class action that Sundance did not pay Taco Bell franchise employees for all the hours they worked. Sundance eventually moved to require Morgan to arbitrate her claims.  

In substance, this dispute involves the question of whether one party arguing that a second party has waived its right to arbitration must show prejudice resulting from the second party’s delay in asserting the right to arbitrate the dispute. 

An Iowa federal district court determined that Sundance had waived its right to require arbitration because the company waited too long, and that Morgan was harmed by costs and efforts in defending the court litigation, instead of getting ready for arbitration.

The requirements to be met to show waiver of a right to arbitrate, said the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, are:

A party waives its right to arbitration if it: “(1) knew of an existing right to arbitration; (2) acted inconsistently with that right; and (3) prejudiced the other party by these inconsistent acts.”

The Court of Appeals rejected Morgan’s argument that Sundance waited too long and engaged in too much judicial conduct to effectively waive Sundance’s right to arbitrate the dispute.  In doing so, the Court of Appeals held that Morgan had failed to show prejudice sufficient to succeed on the waiver argument. Morgan v. Sundance Inc., 992 F.3d 711 (8th Cir. 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/3nqL7sJ).

The appellate panel–in a 2-1 decision–disagreed with the lower U.S. District Court finding of prejudice, concluding that part of the delay was attributable to the time the district court spent deciding Sundance’s motion to dismiss on quasi-jurisdictional grounds, no discovery was conducted, and the efforts on the motion to dismiss did not duplicate efforts Morgan would have to spend in the arbitration. The majority opinion stated:

The district court found Morgan was prejudiced by having to respond to Sundance’s motion to dismiss over the eight-month span of litigation.  We disagree.  Four months of the delay entailed the parties waiting for disposition of Sundance’s motion to dismiss.  No discovery was conducted.  And, the record lacks any evidence that Morgan would have to duplicate her efforts during arbitration.  Instead, most of Morgan’s work focused on the quasi-jurisdictional issue [addressed by Sundance’s motion to dismiss], not the merits of the case.  For these reasons, we hold Morgan was not prejudiced by Sundance’s litigation strategy.

Morgan then petitioned the Supreme Court in August to determine whether she was required to show prejudice to prove that Sundance waived its right to arbitrate, arguing that she would not be required to make such a showing for other types of contracts under applicable law. 

Morgan has now persuaded the Court to take up the case for a hearing on the extent of AT&T Mobility’s reach sometime in 2022. The Court’s order this morning accepting the case—the sole cert granted in today’s order list—can be found here.

An argument date is expected to be scheduled soon. If argued this term, it will be the second arbitration case to be heard in the 2021-2022 Court year. Earlier this month, the Court heard arguments in Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, a case involving the federal courts’ jurisdiction under the Federal Arbitration Act. For more, see Russ Bleemer, “Supreme Court Hears Badgerow, and Leans to Allowing Federal Courts to Broadly Decide on Arbitration Awards and Challenges,” CPR Speaks (Nov. 2, 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/30tIRI5).

Here is the Court’s official Morgan v. Sundance docket page, with case materials. More materials and analysis can be found on Scotusblog, here.

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Mark Kantor is a member of CPR-DR’s Panel 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.

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