CPR Amends Its Employment-Related Mass Claims Protocol

The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution has announced amendments to its Employment-Related Mass Claims Protocol–the ERMCP or Protocol.

The ERMCP provides an innovative mechanism for more efficient and effective resolution of a mass of employment-related cases. The Protocol features a “Test Case Process” followed by a global mediation process informed by the Test Cases.

The ERMCP incorporates CPR’s Administered Employment Arbitration Rules.

An initial set of revisions to the Protocol by a CPR Task Force comprising leading counsel from the plaintiff’s bar, in-house employment counsel, corporate defense attorneys, and neutrals (arbitrators and mediators) was produced in April 2021 in connection with the release of the CPR Administered Employment Arbitration Rules (see CPR Speaks (April 14, 2021).  A second set of revisions that, among other things, incorporated CPR’s Due Process Protections, and makes changes to align with CPR’s updated Diversity Commitment, was promulgated in October 2021 (see CPR Speaks (Oct. 14, 2021).

The just-released Version 2.1 ERMCP amendments arise from CPR’s administrative experience under the Protocol. These changes relate to payments under the Protocol as well as additional clarifications on timing and the opportunity to mediate cases outside the mediation process.

CPR has added a requirement that, subject to any applicable fee waiver, claimants pay a part of the appointment fee as specified on the CPR Fee Schedule, which, in keeping with CPR’s Due Process Protections, will in no event be greater than the court fee required to file an action in a court of competent jurisdiction at the place of arbitration, or if none is specified, in the county of the claimant’s primary place of residence.

The Protocol also specifies that the appointment fee from both the claimant and the respondent in a particular case must be received by CPR prior to provision of a slate of candidates for that case. See Paragraph 4 of the Protocol here and the CPR Fee Schedule for details.

In light of questions received, Version 2.1 also makes clear that the parties may engage in a mediation (other than the ERMCP) at any time during the mass claims process, including during the Test Cases. It provides that any such mediation will be administered by CPR under the CPR Mediation Procedure. (See Footnote 21 of the Protocol.)

In response to other questions, Protocol Paragraph 6 also clarifies that the parties may jointly request an abeyance in connection with a mediation or otherwise of any pending arbitration. If an arbitrator has been appointed, the arbitrator will decide whether to approve such request.

CPR Dispute Resolution Services Senior Vice President Helena Tavares Erickson noted, “We always seek to improve on our innovations as we learn from experience and always welcome and appreciate the feedback provided by the users of our services and products.”

FAQs for the new ERMCP 2.1 can be found here

[END]

2021-2022 SCOTUS Arbitration Wrap-Up

June 16 Scotus Arbitration Cases Wrap-Up

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday wrapped up its arbitration docket with a decision in Viking River Cruises v. Moriana, No. 20–1573.

That was the last of five arbitration matters scheduled, argued, and decided in the 2021-2022 Court term. It’s an unprecedented amount of cases in the area closely watched by the CPR and ADR communities, even in a term which, to be sure, has been characterized by controversial cases involving emergency orders on Covid-19 vaccinations, and forthcoming decisions on immigration, gun rights, and abortion.

We were joined today by members of our recurring, occasional YouTube panel to talk about Viking River Cruises and the other cases in an attempt to sum up the substantial and substantive arbitration instruction that has emerged from the nation’s top Court over the past several weeks in the five opinions.

University of North Texas Dallas College of Law Professor of Practice and Assistant Director of Experiential Education Angela Downes and veteran Texas attorney-arbitrator Richard Faulkner provide the insight.

With six SCOTUS cases as subjects, there’s a lot of quick references to the cases.  You can find the background case histories in previews, argument analysis, and dissections of the opinions on CPR Speaks here.

And here’s a quick guide to our CPR Speaks decision analysis for each case (containing links to our historical coverage), in the chronological order of Supreme Court decisions:

  • Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143 (March 31), on the limits of federal court jurisdiction under the Federal Arbitration Act. (on CPR Speaks here).
  • Morgan v. Sundance Inc., No. 21-328 (May 23), holding that a party resisting arbitration seeking to show its adversary waived its arbitration right need not prove that the adversary prejudiced the party by its actions (here).
  • Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, No. 21-309 (May 30), holding an airport ramp supervisor qualifies for the Federal Arbitration Act Section 1 exemption from arbitration (here).
  • ZF Automotive US Inc. v. Luxshare Ltd., No. 21-401 (June 13) consolidated with AlixPartners LLP v. Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518 (June 13), holding that 28 U.S.C. § 1728 cannot be used in aiding discovery efforts for overseas arbitration tribunals (here and here).
  • Viking River Cruises Inc. v. Moriana, No. 20–1573 (June 15), holding that the Federal Arbitration Act mostly preempts California’s Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 in that employees who have agreed to mandatory arbitration must arbitrate their individual PAGA claims (here).

The above video can be found directly on YouTube at https://youtu.be/KFV8xIvA_o8.

[END]

Supreme Court Backs Airport Worker, Applies Federal Arbitration Act Sec. 1 Exemption, and Sends Employment Dispute to Court

By Russ Bleemer and R. Daniel Knaap

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed unanimously a Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that a worker who loads or unloads goods from vehicles that engage in interstate commerce, but does not physically transport goods, is exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act as a “worker engaged in foreign or interstate commerce” under FAA Sec. 1, resolving a circuit split.

Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, No. 21-309 (today’s decision is available here), involves a Fair Labor Standards Act suit brought by Illinois respondent Latrice Saxon against petitioner Southwest Airlines Co., her employer. Southwest was initially successful, moving to dismiss under the FAA despite Saxon’s argument that she, as a ramp supervisor, is exempt from the FAA under FAA Sec. 1. Case No, 19-cv-0403 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 8, 2019) (available here). The District Court had followed the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

But the Seventh Circuit reversed, agreeing with Saxon that airplane cargo loaders are engaged in interstate commerce, even though she was located solely at Chicago Midway International Airport. Saxon, in the Seventh Circuit’s view, consequently is a transportation worker whose employment contract is exempt from the FAA. 993 F.3d 492 (7th Cir. 2021) (available here).

That view was affirmed today in the 8-0 opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, erasing the circuit split with the Fifth Circuit. Justice Amy Coney Barrett didn’t participate.

Southwest “maintain[ed] that §1 ‘exempts classes of workers based on their conduct, not their employer’s,’ and the relevant class therefore includes only those airline employees who are actually engaged in interstate commerce in their day-to-day work,” according to today’s opinion.

The view that the localized worker was not engaged in interstate commerce and was therefore subject to arbitration was soundly rejected in today’s opinion. The case may have implications for app-based companies, like Amazon and Lyft, who strongly urged the Court to back Southwest in amicus briefs and reject the use of the FAA Sec. 1 carve-out exemption from arbitration for Saxon.

* * *

The Court has usually been focused on getting cases into arbitration, and that hasn’t meant success for individuals fighting arbitration and seeking court processes.

Yet the three arbitration cases decided this term, all based in employment matters, backed the workers. In addition to affirming today’s employee victory in the Seventh Circuit, last month, the Court ruled in favor of a Taco Bell worker resisting her employer’s motion to compel arbitration in a unanimous opinion by Justice Elena Kagan. The Court found that a party need not show it was prejudiced by the moving party’s actions, but instead focuses on the employer’s actions to indicate whether the employer had waived its right to arbitration. Details on Morgan v. Sundance Inc., No. 21-328 (available at https://bit.ly/3NywXj5) are available on CPR Speaks here.

In the first of the 2021-2022 arbitration cases to be decided, the Court embraced a narrow construction of subject-matter jurisdiction in arbitration matters. The March 31 decision reversed a Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that a federal trial court had jurisdiction under Sections 9 and 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act to confirm and overturn arbitration awards. The decision in Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143 (available here) potentially gave the employee, who filed suit over workplace discrimination, a new shot at overturning an arbitration award in state court.

* * *

So in today’s case, the Court also backs a worker trying to avoid arbitration, following similarly the 2019 New Prime v. Oliveira case, where Justice Neil Gorsuch, in his first Supreme Court arbitration opinion, read FAA Sec. 1 to exempt an independent contractor/interstate truck driver from arbitration. The Court has limited the exemption from FAA application to transportation workers “engaged in” interstate commerce only in Circuit City Stores Inc. v. Adams, 532 U.S. 105 (2001) (available at https://bit.ly/2HhwYLu). But since then, the Court has only recognized an FAA Sec. 1 exemption for an independent contractor—a long-haul truck driver—in New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, 139 S. Ct. 532 (2019) (available here).

Today’s decision revisits the limited scope of the FAA Sec. 1 exemption, and says it applies to the original plaintiff/respondent in the case.

First, Justice Thomas notes that Saxon, who is a Southwest ramp supervisor located solely at Chicago Midway, belongs to a class of workers who physically load and unload cargo on and off airplanes, using plain language and textual analysis to put the respondent/original plaintiff in the FAA Sec. 1 exemption. He finds that such workers are “as a practical matter, part of the interstate transportation of goods.” (Citation omitted.)

He used the Circuit City Sec. 1 analysis holding that the exemption applies only to transportation workers to establish the backing for Saxon’s position, finding, “Cargo loaders exhibit this central feature of a transportation worker.”

In analyzing the nature of interstate commerce in a key part of the opinion, Thomas notes, “any class of workers that loads or unloads cargo on or off airplanes bound for a different State or country is ‘engaged in foreign or interstate commerce’”—a point sure to refocus attorneys on the employment arbitration policies of app-based commerce. Amazon, for example, strongly urged the Court to reverse and back Southwest in an amicus brief, available here. (See the docket link above for more amicus briefs supporting both sides.) In a footnote, the Court notes that the issues most important to delivery companies weren’t needed to be addressed to decide Southwest Airlines.

Still, Thomas stopped short of including all airline industry employees as “transportation workers” for purposes of the FAA Sec. 1 exemption, which states, “nothing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.”

In a painstaking dictionary analysis, Thomas notes that seamen and railroad workers are not industry-wide categories, and therefore don’t include the entire industry workforces. The implication is that a job-by-job, task-by-task analysis with the effects on interstate commerce, will be required for exempting workers from arbitration under FAA Sec. 1.

At the same time, the Thomas opinion rejects three Southwest points that sought to keep Saxon out of the exemption and require her to arbitrate under her employment agreement. Similar to the opinion’s rejection of the generalized interpretation of transportation workers that would include all airline workers by Saxon, the Court also states that the idea that the employee must ride on transportation in interstate commerce is too broad a reading of the FAA Sec. 1 language.

Next, Thomas notes that the goods that Saxon loaded only in Illinois were destined for interstate commerce, pointedly rejecting other Southwest-cited cases where the Court found localized activity was not in interstate commerce.

Finally, the opinion rejects a “statutory purpose” argument by Southwest, which claimed that the Seventh Circuit’s Sec. 1 interpretation hurts the pro-arbitration lean of the rest of the statute, particularly FAA Sec. 2, which “broadly requires courts to enforce arbitration agreements in any ‘contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce.'”

“Here,” countered Justice Thomas, “§1’s plain text suffices to show that airplane cargo loaders are exempt from the FAA’s scope, and we have no warrant to elevate vague invocations of statutory purpose over the words Congress chose.”

The opinion concludes, “Latrice Saxon frequently loads and unloads cargo on and off airplanes that travel in interstate commerce. She therefore belongs to a ‘class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce’ to which §1’s exemption applies.”

* * *

While the nation awaits decisions on abortion and gun rights, the decision comes in an unprecedented time for arbitration at the Court. While there are usually one or two arbitration decisions per term, the Court has heard six cases—two consolidated–on how arbitration works during the 2021-2022 term, four of which were argued in March alone.  Highlights of the cases can be found on CPR Speaks, here, including with the preview and argument reports for the three cases already decided, including today’s case. Detailed oral argument coverage for Southwest Airlines v. Saxon can be found on CPR Speaks here; and the preview with background can be found here. The remaining two 2021-2022 Supreme Court arbitration cases are expected to be decided before the current term ends at the end of this month.

* * *

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

[END]

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

By Mylene Chan

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new releases covering the two studies, “Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Mediators’ Perception of Remote Mediation and Comparisons to In-Person Mediation” and “The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Mediation Participants Experience in Online Mediation and Comparison to In-Person Mediation,” are expected to be released here Tuesday morning. [UPDATE: The studies were released Wednesday, June 1, and can be accessed directly here.] They indicate that most of the survey participants prefer online mediation over in-person mediation, and that they believe procedural fairness, distributive justice, and access to justice are greater in online mediation. 

Here are the key findings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

[END]

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

By R. Daniel Knaap & Russ Bleemer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

[END]

Update: An Influx of Arbitration Legislation

By Tamia Sutherland

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

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

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

Activity on some is possible this year.

* * *

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

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

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

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

The Securities Arbitration Alert post can be found here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gilbert’s full statement is available here.

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[END]

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).

* * *

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.

* * *

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]

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]