Arbitration Practice After Epic Systems

By Russ Bleemer

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision backs the use of employer-imposed bars on class-action processes. See Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, No. 16-285 (opinion in the consolidated cases is available at https://bit.ly/2rWzAE8).  The case is summarized on this CPR Speaks blog here: https://bit.ly/2KEuXFN,   with Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence summarized the blog at https://bit.ly/2wYEKEB, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent examined on CPR Speaks here: https://bit.ly/2rXQFgT.

So what’s next?

Mandatory individual employment arbitration, with a waiver of class/collective processes, means simply that business can require employees to go it alone in addressing problems about the workplace.

A recent study found that mandatory arbitration use already had been soaring on its own over the long-term—see Alexander J.S. Colvin, “The growing use of mandatory arbitration,” Economic Policy Institute (April 6, 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2HxgQUL–even as earlier studies found that employers prefer more conciliatory processes (see the Alternatives article cited below).

Employers surely will continue to restrict class processes.  For many, the ADR process was a sideshow to the ability to limit class actions. New employment arbitration programs will be faced with the same legitimacy questions that adopters over the past 20 years have had to address, and now, with the higher-profile, perhaps more worker skepticism.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers will be forced to assess new approaches for dealing with clients’ work problems without the prospects of bigger matters.

The bottom line, of course, is that leading lawyers on both sides have been ready for today’s decision in the consolidated cases. Both already have begun maneuvering while now facing the decision they are still analyzing.

* * *

The cases involve arbitration provisions that kick in due to class waivers which prohibit employees from joining class processes—litigation or arbitration—in favor of mandatory, predispute, individualized arbitration to resolve disputes with their employers.

The decision is actually on three cases—NLRB v. Murphy Oil (No. 16-307), from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Ernst & Young v. Morris (No. 16-300), from the Ninth Circuit, and the Seventh Circuit’s Epic Systems—that had been consolidated into the Court’s 2017-2018 term’s kickoff argument on Oct. 2, with four attorneys arguing the case on behalf of the parties in all three cases.

The long-contested issue began with the release in 2012 of an opinion by the National Labor Relations Board. The administrative decision, which found that class waivers illegally violated the National Labor Relations Act’s Sec. 7 allowing employees to take concerted action to confront their employer, was overturned repeatedly by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in numerous cases.  See below.

The NLRB ruled that the class waivers eliminated by the FAA’s Sec. 2 savings clause, which enforces arbitration agreements “save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” The Fifth Circuit rejected that view on the ground it infringed on arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, a position strongly echoed today by the U.S. Supreme Court in the majority opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch.

The class waivers in question require workers, from collectively bargained rank-and file to executive suites, to address disputes with their employers in individual arbitration. While unions can agree to mandatory predispute arbitration on behalf of their members, the cases involved white-collar employees and nonunion workers with little bargaining power.

The Court had definitively permitted mandatory arbitration contract clauses accompanied by class waivers for products and services contracts where consumers have little or no bargaining power. See AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U. S. 333 (2011)(available at https://bit.ly/2KJc8RE).

The Federal Arbitration Act-focused decision today now settles how arbitration is used in workplace matters.

Cases challenging the class waivers that provided for mandatory arbitration flooded the federal courts, starting in the Fifth Circuit, which reversed the NLRB’s 2012 decision, In re D.R. Horton, 357 NLRB No. 184, 2012 WL 36274 (Jan. 3, 2012)(PDF download link at http://1.usa.gov/1IMkHn8), enforcement denied in relevant part, 737 F.3d 344 (5th Cir. 2013)(Graves, J., dissenting)(PDF download link at http://bit.ly/1XRvjrM), reh’g denied, No. 12-60031 (Apr. 16, 2014).

The Fifth Circuit became the venue of choice for employers seeking to reverse the NLRB’s finding that they had violated labor law by requiring class waivers and arbitration as a condition of employment. The New Orleans-based federal appeals court issued dozens of opinions countering in their reasoning, and then officially reversing in their holdings, the many NLRB decisions in which the board, an independent Washington agency, followed its D.R. Horton decision.  The reversal, however, only applied to law in the circuit in which the decision was made.

A circuit split emerged, from the Seventh and Ninth Circuits–first the Seventh Circuit’s Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis (No. 16-285), which became today’s lead Supreme Court case won by the employer, then with the case of Ernst & Young v. Morris (No. 16-300), from the Ninth Circuit.

The Court accepted the cases, along with NLRB v. Murphy Oil (No. 16-307), one of those Fifth Circuit decisions reversing the NLRB–which itself is a party in the case–and then consolidated the three cases with Epic Systems as the lead more than a year ago.  The argument in the cases kicked off the Court’s current term on Oct. 2.

For details on the arguments, see the blog by Alternatives’ publisher, the CPR Institute, CPR Speaks, at Mark Kantor, “Supreme Court Oral Argument on NLRB Class Actions vs. Arbitration Policy,” CPR Speaks (Oct. 2)(available at http://bit.ly/2fLwU9C), and Russ Bleemer, “The Class Waiver-Arbitration Argument: The Supreme Court Transcript,” CPR Speaks (Oct. 3) (available at http://bit.ly/2yWjWuf).

Kantor noted that the NLRB’s ruling that mandatory arbitration teamed with class waivers were illegal might have disappeared on its own with Trump administration appointees now installed as commissioners ready to reverse the Obama-era D. R. Horton administrative decision.

Regardless, Kantor noted, “This dispute is a reminder that many aspects of arbitration in the U.S. are now a partisan political issue, with regulatory measures addressing arbitration shifting back and forth as political party control shifts back and forth.”

In his majority opinion, Gorsuch used almost the same language.  See the end of CPR Speaks post on the dissent and the majority reaction here: https://bit.ly/2rXQFgT

* * *

For now, today’s Supreme Court has cleared up history’s questions by resolving the overarching issue, with the details to be worked out in employment policies, ADR sessions and, eventually, courtrooms nationwide.

Still, how that plays out in practice is far more in question than it was even a few months ago.

Arbitration has been under attack recently for its frequent use of confidentiality provisions by the #MeToo movement.  The ADR process has been a target in high-profile matters such as Gretchen Carlson’s settlement with her former employer, Fox News.

Microsoft CEO Brad Smith announced that the company would stop using mandatory employment arbitration with respect to sexual harassment claims (which was shortly followed by Uber and Lyft) and legislation barring the process has been proposed. Elena Gurevich, “Predispute Arbitration Would be Barred for Sex Harassment Claims under Legislative Proposal,” CPR Speaks blog (Jan. 25)(available at http://bit.ly/2FUyv4V).

And yet, the license to use arbitration has produced unintended consequences for employers.  A class of employees decertified by a California federal court bombarded national health club 24-Hour Fitness with hundreds of individual arbitrations earlier in the decade, forcing the company to settle all at once.  The decertification–over the claims’ content and unrelated to the class waiver issue—pushed the company to be more aggressive about defending its arbitration clauses, though the Supreme Court didn’t accept its case as part of the consolidated cases decided today. Jessica Goodheart, “Why 24 Hour Fitness Is Going to the Mat against Its Own Employees,” Fast Company (March 13)(available at http://bit.ly/2pkDPIm)

That hardline stance may be an anachronism, despite apparent backing from the Supreme Court today. Employers five years ago were exhibiting a much stronger preference for “mediation and other interest-based processes over mandatory arbitration and other rights-based processes.” David B. Lipsky, J. Ryan Lamare and Michael D. Maffie, “Mandatory Employment Arbitration:  Dispelling the Myths,” 32 Alternatives 133 (October 2014)(available at https://bit.ly/2s11Aqd).

That article also questioned whether employees were increasingly being subject to mandatory arbitration.  And new data from the same source, the Cornell University ILR School—see Colvin article linked above–indicates that the number has soared, more than tripling since the 1990s.  According to Colvin, more than half of employers now have mandatory arbitration, both with and without class waivers, with more than half the nation’s nonunion workers covered by the agreements.  That’s up from only two percent in 1992. Alexander J.S. Colvin, “The growing use of mandatory arbitration,” Economic Policy Institute (April 6, 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2HxgQUL).

Whether more workplace conflict is diverted to resolution methods via human-resource departments’ open-door policies or mediation remains to be seen.  But the growing presence of mandatory arbitration at least guarantees more court cases that will drill down into finer points involving arbitration use—the limits and parameters will be under scrutiny more than the extent of the practice.

Next up for the Supreme Court’s arbitration scrutiny is Oliveira v. New Prime Inc., No. 17-340, which will investigate whether courts or arbitrators decide the arbitrability of a case where Federal Arbitration Act Sec. 1 exemption removing a case from arbitration applies. The case, which will be heard in the fall, could authorize further expansion of the reach of class waivers and mandatory arbitration to independent contractors from today’s employees’ decision. Early speculation is that Epic Systems makes Oliveira an easy call for the employers.

And three weeks ago, the Court took a second arbitration case for next year, Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varela, No. 17-988, which will examine the issue of whether the Federal Arbitration Act “forecloses a state-law interpretation of an arbitration agreement that would authorize class arbitration based solely on general language commonly used in arbitration agreements.”

Today’s Epic Systems decision will overshadow whatever happens in those cases for human resources executives and in employment lawyers’ offices for longer.  The battleground may move to legislatures.

* * *

Meantime, players on both sides have begun to assess it. They are elated—or searching for words, depending on their side of the employment fence.

Referring to the FAA, Cliff Palefsky, of San Francisco’s McGuinn Hillsman & Palefsky, who has represented employees in the 24- Hour Fitness litigation above, says that the Court “took a statute that Congress expressly said doesn’t apply to employment and used it to preempt the nation’s most significant labor and civil rights laws.”

Palefsky, who worked on an amicus brief filed in the consolidated cases on behalf of 10 labor unions and the National Employment Lawyers Association, and who is has been active on the employees’ side in the cases for years, says he’s still reviewing the decision, but adds, “It was an intellectually and legally indefensible political assault on worker’s rights.”

On the other side, Evan M. Tager, a Washington, D.C., Mayer Brown partner who has argued many arbitration cases on employers’ behalf, says, “The Court reaffirmed in the strongest possible terms that conditioning the enforcement of arbitration provisions on the availability of class-like procedures frustrates the purposes of arbitration and is not permissible absent a clear congressional command.”

Tager worked on Mayer Brown’s amicus brief on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the consolidated cases.  He also represented the petitioner in AT&T Mobility, and says he was glad that the Court decision today reasserted that case’s view that FAA Sec. 2 doesn’t save the NLRB’s view that class waivers violated public policy, which he notes was “indistinguishable” from the rule invalidated 2011 case.

Christopher Murray, an Indianapolis shareholder in Ogletree Deakins–the firm that brought D.R. Horton to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where it was overturned, leading to today’s decision (the firm also submitted an amicus brief on behalf of trade associations in the consolidated cases)—says, “Today’s decision affirms what almost everyone already knew before the NLRB’s 2012 D.R  Horton decision: The NLRA has nothing to do with class-action procedures used by other decision makers to adjudicate claims under other statutes. Rather, the FAA gives parties the right to determine the procedures they’ll use in arbitration, including the right to arbitrate individually.”

Murray–who authored this month’s Alternatives cover story, “No Longer Silent: How Accurate Are Recent Criticisms of Employment Arbitration?” 38 Alternatives 65 (May 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2rYmned), and who co-chairs his firm’s Arbitration and ADR Practice Group—adds, “This is a good decision for parties interested in any form of alternative dispute resolution because it confirms those parties are best situated to agree on the procedures to be used to resolve their disputes quickly, effectively, and fairly, and courts are generally not permitted under the FAA to second-guess those procedures.”

.

 

Russ Bleemer is the editor of CPR’s award-winning publication, Alternatives.

The Dissent, and the Majority’s Push Back

By Russ Bleemer

The divisive battle over class waivers associated with mandatory arbitration, settled today in the Supreme Court with strong backing for Federal Arbitration Act supremacy over the National Labor Relations Act, was almost destined for a closely divided Court.

It’s unlikely any Court watchers were surprised by the majority’s 5-4 opinion in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, No. 16-285 (opinion in the consolidated cases is available at https://bit.ly/2rWzAE8), written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Court’s newest member, especially in light of the arguments, which kicked off the term last Oct. 2.  [For details on the arguments, see the CPR Speaks: Mark Kantor, “Supreme Court Oral Argument on NLRB Class Actions vs. Arbitration Policy,” (Oct. 2)(available at http://bit.ly/2fLwU9C), and Russ Bleemer, “The Class Waiver-Arbitration Argument: The Supreme Court Transcript,” (Oct. 3) (available at http://bit.ly/2yWjWuf).]

The Court delayed the case from the previous term apparently with an eye to a full Court that would avoid a 4-4 split that would have allowed different laws depending on the circuit decisions.  In the interim, Gorsuch was confirmed.

His opinion today for the majority strongly backs the waivers and employers’ ability to require workplace disputes to be resolved in individual arbitration.  It is summarized on this CPR Speaks blog here: bit.ly/2KEuXFN 

Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence is summarized on CPR Speaks here: https://bit.ly/2wYEKEB.

And the generally expected lengthy dissent emerged too, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

“The Court today subordinates employee protective labor legislation to the [Federal] Arbitration Act,” notes Ginsburg at the dissent’s outset. “In so doing, the Court forgets the labor market imbalance that gave rise to the [Norris-LaGuardia Act] and the [National Labor Relations Act], and ignores the destructive consequences of diminishing the right of employees ‘to band together in confronting an employer.’ NLRB v. City Disposal Systems Inc., 465 U. S. 822, 835 (1984).”

The dissenters immediately asked for an intervention: “Congressional correction of the Court’s elevation of the FAA over workers’ rights to act in concert is urgently in order,” Ginsburg writes.

Ginsburg outlined her attack on the majority’s view in two intertwined points:  an analysis of “the extreme imbalance once prevalent in our Nation’s workplaces, and Congress’ aim in the NLGA and the NLRA to place employers and employees on a more equal footing,” as well as a counter-analysis of the FAA’s reach, which “does not shrink the NLRA’s protective sphere.”

Tracing the history of the nation’s labor movement, Ginsburg notes that actions enforcing “workplace rights collectively fit comfortably under the umbrella ‘concerted activities for the purpose of . . . mutual aid or protection.’ 29 U.S.C. § 157”—the NLRA’s Sec. 7, at the heart of the consolidated cases decided by the Court.

She notes that the Court’s view that the NLRA doesn’t protect class litigation is counter to the statute’s “text, history, purposes, and longstanding construction.”

The core dissent argument over Sec. 7 is the activity it enumerates.  Gorsuch, writing for the majority, describes a “regulatory regime” for the law that offers “specific guidance” for protective activities.  Ginsburg attacks the majority’s view that the NLRA doesn’t discuss employees’ collective litigation, about which Gorsuch noted that “it is hard to fathom why Congress would take such care to regulate all the other matters mentioned in [§7] yet remain mute about this matter alone—unless, of course, [§7] doesn’t speak to class and collective action procedures in the first place.”

But the dissent counters that NLRA Sec. 7 only discussed collective bargaining representatives’ selection with specificity. Ginsburg notes that the section didn’t offer “specific guidance” about forming labor organizations, the right to strike, or “other concerted activities” as provided in the law.

Later specific guidance on “some of the activities protected” under the law doesn’t “shed[] any light on Congress’s initial conception” of Sec. 7’s scope, which protects “numerous activities for which the [NLRA provides no ‘specific’ regulatory guidance.”

The dissent blasts the Court’s view that the employees should realize that with class action rules they use also provide inherent limits—that they can be contracted away in favor of individualized arbitration.

“The freedom to depart asserted by the Court,” writes Ginsburg, “is entirely one sided.” She concludes the section noting that NLRA Sec. 7 rights include the right to pursue collective litigation, and therefore “employer-dictated collective-litigation stoppers, i.e., ‘waivers,’ are unlawful.”

* * *

Similarly, Ginsburg analyzes the FAA’s history to conclude that it should not override NLRA protections she and her colleagues say are present in the labor statute. “In recent decades,” the dissent says, “this Court has veered away from Congress’ intent simply to afford merchants a speedy and economical means of resolving commercial disputes.”

Specifically, the dissent cites Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U. S. 20, 23 (1991)—which provided that the FAA authorized arbitration of Age Discrimination in Employment Act claims as long as the remedies available in courts were also available in arbitration—and Circuit City Stores Inc. v. Adams, 532 U. S. 105, 109 (2001), which opened FAA application up to a wide range of employment contracts containing arbitration clauses.

“Few employers imposed arbitration agreements on their employees in the early 1990’s,” Ginsburg writes. “After Gilmer and Circuit City, however, employers’ exaction of arbitration clauses in employment contracts grew steadily. “

The dissent calls that application “exorbitant,” and said it pushed the National Labor Relations Board to confront the issue in In re Horton, 357 NLRB No. 184, 2012 WL 36274 (Jan. 3, 2012)(PDF download link at http://1.usa.gov/1IMkHn8).

“As I see it,” Ginsburg writes, “in relatively recent years, the Court’s [FAA] decisions have taken many wrong turns. Yet, even accepting the Court’s decisions as they are, nothing compels the destructive result the Court reaches today.”

She continues her FAA analysis by noting that the NLRA prohibition doesn’t discriminate against arbitration in violation of the arbitration law. “That statute neither discriminates against arbitration on its face, nor by covert operation,” notes the dissent, adding, “It requires invalidation of all employer-imposed contractual provisions prospectively waiving employees’ §7 rights.” [Emphasis in the opinion.]

The dissent concluded with a plea on behalf of U.S. workers, who Ginsburg writes will be subject to under-enforcement of federal and state statutes. “In stark contrast to today’s decision,” she writes, “the Court has repeatedly recognized the centrality of group action to the effective enforcement of antidiscrimination statutes.” The dissent passage cites a 2015 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study that pre-dispute agreements cut off consumers’ claims; the study was used to outlaw mandatory consumer arbitration in financial services contracts, but was overturned by the Senate under the Congressional Review Act when Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote to kill the regulation last October.

* * *

Justice Gorsuch countered the dissent arguments as vehemently as Ginsburg’s dissent took on the majority decision.

“In its view,” writes Gorsuch at the beginning of a section addressing the minority dissent, “today’s decision ushers us back to the Lochner era when this Court regularly overrode legislative policy judgments. The dissent even suggests we have resurrected the long-dead “yellow dog” contract. [Such contracts prohibited unionization; citation to Ginsburg’s opinion omitted.] But like most apocalyptic warnings, this one proves a false alarm.”

First, Gorsuch says that the decision doesn’t override Congressional policy. Workers’ rights to unionize and bargain collectively “stand every bit as strong today as they did yesterday,” the majority opinion states.

“[T]oday’s decision merely declines to read into the NLRA a novel right to class action procedures that the [NLRB’s] own general counsel disclaimed as recently as 2010,” the opinion says.

The minority’s problem, according to Gorsuch, is that it doesn’t like the Court’s FAA jurisprudence:

Shortly after invoking the specter of Lochner, it turns around and criticizes the Court for trying too hard to abide the Arbitration Act’s “‘liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements,’” Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., 537 U. S. 79, 83 (2002), saying we “‘ski’” too far down the “‘slippery slope’” of this Court’s arbitration precedent.  . . . [Internal citation omitted.] But the dissent’s real complaint lies with the mountain of precedent itself. The dissent spends page after page relitigating our [FAA] precedents, rehashing arguments this Court has heard and rejected many times in many cases that no party has asked us to revisit.

Similarly, Gorsuch and the majority also hammer the Ginsburg-minority NLRA view. “The dissent imposes a vast construction on Section 7’s language,” the opinion notes, “But a statute’s meaning does not always ‘turn solely’ on the broadest imaginable “definitions of its component words.” Yates v. United States, 574 U. S. ___, ___ (2015) (plurality opinion) (slip op., at 7). Linguistic and statutory context also matter. We have offered an extensive explanation why those clues support our reading today. By contrast, the dissent rests its interpretation on legislative history.  . . . But legislative history is not the law.” [Internal citations omitted.]

Gorsuch writes that the Court’s decision wasn’t between the laws the justices preferred but on the precise issue:

[T]he question before us is whether courts must enforce particular arbitration agreements according to their terms. And it’s the [FAA] that speaks directly to the enforceability of arbitration agreements, while the NLRA doesn’t mention arbitration at all. So if forced to choose between the two, we might well say the Arbitration Act offers the more on-point instruction. Of course, there is no need to make that call because, as our precedents demand, we have sought and found a persuasive interpretation that gives effect to all of Congress’s work.  . . .

Finally, the majority rejects the dissent policy arguments, noting that that the “respective merits of class actions and private arbitration as means of enforcing the law are questions constitutionally entrusted not to the courts to decide but to the policymakers in the political branches where those questions remain hotly contested.”

Gorsuch then, immediately, notes that the Senate’s repeal of the CFPB’s move to ban mandatory arbitration.

 

Russ Bleemer is the editor of CPR’s award-winning publication, Alternatives

Future Challenges Nixed? Thomas Writes That Public Policy is Not FAA Illegality

By Russ Bleemer

There were two opinions in addition to the five-justice majority opinion this morning in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, No. 16-285, covering three consolidated cases that declared that employers may require their employees to use mandatory individual arbitration to resolve workplace disputes, and waive their rights to class processes in either traditional litigation class actions, or in class arbitration processes.

[Our first blog post on the majority opinion here: https://bit.ly/2KEuXFN  Opinion here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-285_q8l1.pdf.%5D

Justice Clarence Thomas, who joined the majority, wrote separately to explain why he believes that the Federal Arbitration Act Sec. 2 savings clause relied upon by the employees didn’t apply.

Thomas’s concurrence explains that the Sec. 2 ground for revocation of an arbitration agreement—“valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract” (9 U. S. C. §2)—concern the contract’s formation.

But the employees, Thomas writes, said the National Labor Relations Act makes the class waivers illegal, which is a public policy defense.

Because “‘[r]efusal to enforce a contract for public-policy reasons does not concern whether the contract was properly made,’ the saving clause does not apply here,” according to Thomas, quoting his concurrence in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U. S. 333, 353, 357 (2011).

The position is a significant distinction and expands the majority opinion’s view that there was no Sec. 2 violation because the National Labor Relations Board interfered with a fundamental attribute of arbitration, also from AT&T Mobility.  Thomas’s position could be used by the Court to reject future challenges to arbitration contracts.

AT&T Mobility was the case in which the Court permitted mandatory individual arbitration with class waivers in consumer contracts.  Today’s Epic Systems decision mirrors AT&T Mobility in the workplace.

More on the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg-authored dissent soon.

 

Russ Bleemer is editor of CPR’s award-winning publication, Alternatives.

Supreme Court Backs Federal Arbitration Act’s Power to Require Mandatory Individual Arbitration

By Russ Bleemer

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning has affirmed the ability of companies to use mandatory arbitration clauses in employment agreements that are accompanied by waivers of class processes in litigation and arbitration.

In 5-4 decision by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act requires enforcement of employees’ agreements to mandatory individual arbitration. Gorsuch, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, held that the employees’ arguments that the FAA’s Sec. 2 Savings Clause, which would exempt arbitration agreement provisions from enforcement when they run afoul of “generally applicable contract defenses,” and the National Labor Relations Act, do not counter the FAA’s mandate.

The case is available at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-285_q8l1.pdf

The long-running controversy involves arbitration provisions that kick in due to class waivers which prohibit employees from joining class processes—litigation or arbitration—in favor of mandatory, predispute, individualized arbitration to resolve disputes with their employers.

The cases—NLRB v. Murphy Oil (No. 16-307), from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Ernst & Young v. Morris (No. 16-300), from the Ninth Circuit, and the Seventh Circuit’s Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis (No. 16-285)—had been consolidated into the Court’s 2017-2018 term’s kickoff argument on Oct. 2, with Epic Systems as the lead case, and four attorneys arguing the case on behalf of the parties in all three cases.

The class waivers in question require workers, from collectively bargained rank-and file to executive suites, to address disputes with their employers in individual arbitration. While unions can agree to mandatory predispute arbitration on behalf of their members, the cases involve white-collar employees and nonunion workers with little bargaining power.

The Court previously definitively permitted mandatory arbitration contract clauses accompanied by class waivers for products and services contracts where consumers have little or no bargaining power. The Federal Arbitration Act-focused decision today now settles how arbitration is used in workplace matters.

Gorsuch’s opinion rejects a 2012 National Labor Relations Board administrative that held that FAA Sec. 2 removed mandatory individual arbitration from FAA application for employee agreements.  The Court’s opinion notes that the reasoning interfered with a fundamental attribute of arbitration.

After rejecting the Sec. 2 argument, Gorsuch dismantled the employees’ other arguments.  He develops the Supreme Court precedent concerning two clashing federal statutes, finding that the National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1935, didn’t override 1925’s FAA to require class or collective actions.

“Section 7 focuses on the right to organize unions and bargain collectively,” Gorsuch writes. “It may permit unions to bargain to prohibit arbitration. Cf. 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, 556 U. S. 247, 256–260 (2009). But it does not express approval or disapproval of arbitration. It does not mention class or collective action procedures. It does not even hint at a wish to displace the Arbitration Act—let alone accomplish that much clearly and manifestly, as our precedents demand.”

Moreover, Gorsuch notes that NLRA Sec. 7’s definition of protected employees’ “concerted activities” didn’t include, nor was it amended to include, class-action litigation. “[W]e’ve stressed that the absence of any specific statutory discussion of arbitration or class actions is an important and telling clue that Congress has not displaced the Arbitration Act,” the majority opinion states.

Similar arguments regarding claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Norris-LaGuardia Act also were rejected.

Finally, Gorsuch, a longtime critic of Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council Inc., 467 U. S. 837, which provides Court deference to agency determinations made in the areas of the agency’s expertise, writes that the NLRB’s decision that launched the case, In re Horton, 357 NLRB No. 184, 2012 WL 36274 (Jan. 3, 2012)(PDF download link at http://1.usa.gov/1IMkHn8), didn’t meet the Chevron deference standards.

The NLRB, the opinion notes “has sought to interpret this statute in a way that limits the work of a second statute, the Arbitration Act. And on no account might we agree that Congress implicitly delegated to an agency authority to address the meaning of a second statute it does not administer. One of Chevron’s essential premises is simply missing here.”

Gorsuch, after countering the lengthy dissent—we will return to the dissent and majority’s counterpoints in a subsequent CPR Speaks post later today–concludes:

The policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written. While Congress is of course always free to amend this judgment, we see nothing suggesting it did so in the NLRA—much less that it manifested a clear intention to displace the Arbitration Act. Because we can easily read Congress’s statutes to work in harmony, that is where our duty lies.

 

Russ Bleemer is editor of CPR’s award-winning publication, Alternatives

Uber Eliminates Mandatory Arbitration of, and NDAs for, Sexual Assault and Harassment Claims

AnnaBy Anna M. Hershenberg, Esq.

Uber Technologies Inc. announced that it will no longer require its customers, drivers or employees to arbitrate sexual assault or harassment claims, and that it would allow victims to decide whether to enter into non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality provisions as a part of any settlement with the company.

Uber is the second tech company to announce it has changed its dispute resolution policies in response to the #MeToo movement, following Microsoft’s December move.  Brad Smith, “Microsoft endorses Senate bill to address sexual harassment,” Microsoft blog (Dec. 19, 2017)(available at http://bit.ly/2mR65jR).

In a blog post yesterday, “Turning the lights on,” Uber’s Chief Legal Officer Tony West announced the details of three major changes to Uber’s policies. Tony West, “Turning the lights on,” Uber blog (May 15, 2018) (available at https://ubr.to/2KrVhD1).

First, Uber states it “will no longer require mandatory arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment claims by Uber riders, drivers or employees.” The company instead will allow victims to choose whether to mediate, arbitrate or litigate their individual claims.

In an interview with the New York Times, West confirmed that the “waiving of arbitration only applied to those claims and not for other legal claims, like discrimination.” Daisuke Wakabayashi, “Uber Eliminates Forced Arbitration for Sexual Misconduct Claims,” New York Times (May 15, 2018)(available at https://nyti.ms/2GjbBTW).

West also noted that the new policy applies “to people currently in arbitration with Uber over sexual assault or harassment claims.” Id. 

The Uber blog post specifically states that the company waives application of mandatory arbitration to “individual” claims, still barring class actions. Notably, as of the writing of this blog post, Uber’s driver agreement still contains a mandatory arbitration clause.  Uber US Terms of Use (Dec. 13, 2017)(available at https://ubr.to/2jrKPBW).

Second, Uber will no longer require people who settle sexual harassment or abuse claims with the company to sign confidentiality provisions or NDAs that forbid them from speaking about their experience in order to “help end the culture of silence that surrounds sexual violence.” Tony West, “Turning the lights on,” Uber blog (May 15, 2018)(available at https://ubr.to/2KrVhD1).

This does not appear to prohibit victims from agreeing to keep the terms of the settlement confidential. “Whether to find closure, seek treatment, or become advocates for change themselves, survivors will be in control of whether to share their stories,” the blog post states.

Third, Uber has committed to publishing “a safety transparency report that will include data on sexual assaults and other incidents that occur on the Uber platform.” Id.

Soon after Uber announced these changes, competitor Lyft announced the same changes, and said on Twitter it would join Uber in producing a safety report.  Johana Bhuiyan, “Following Uber’s lead, Lyft is also allowing alleged victims of sexual assault to pursue cases in open court.” Recode (May 15, 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2ILLXfO).

Some news sources have linked Uber’s policy change to its hopes for an initial public offering in 2019, and mounting public pressure following a CNN investigation, which found that 103 U.S. Uber drivers had been accused of sexual assault or abuse in the past four years.  Daisuke Wakabayashi, “Uber Eliminates Forced Arbitration for Sexual Misconduct Claims,” New York Times (May 15, 2018)(available at https://nyti.ms/2GjbBTW); Stephanie Forshee, “Uber CLO Explains Decision to Scrap Mandatory Arbitration Clauses and NDAs Around Sexual Harassment, Assault,” Corporate Counsel (May 15, 2018)(available at https://cnnmon.ie/2I35QyI); see also Sara Ashley O’Brien, Nelli Black, Curt Devine and Drew Griffin, “CNN investigation: 103 Uber drivers accused of sexual assault or abuse,” CNN Money (April 30, 2018) (available at https://cnnmon.ie/2I35QyI).

Uber’s Tony West, however, insists that the new policies are aimed at winning back the “public’s trust,” “respect of customers [Uber] lost through [its] past actions and behavior,” and, in the words of the company’s new “cultural norm,” to “do the right thing, period.”  Tony West, “Turning the lights on”, Uber blog (May 15, 2018) (available at https://ubr.to/2KrVhD1); see also Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new cultural norms, Linked In (Nov. 7, 2017)(available at https://bit.ly/2jaoiL7)(the author is the company’s chief executive officer).

The legal profession’s use of mandatory employment arbitration also has recalibrated, at least at some firms, in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In March, major law firms, including New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Los Angeles’ Munger, Tolles & Olson announced they would no longer require employees to sign onto mandatory employment arbitration agreements. The moves followed a Twitter attack invoking #MeToo directed primarily at Munger.

And on Monday, Yale Law School sent a letter on behalf of top law schools asking law firms that recruit on their campuses to “disclose whether they require summer associates to sign mandatory arbitration agreements and nondisclosure agreements related to workplace misconduct, including but not limited to sexual harassment.” Staci Zaretsky, “Elite Law Schools Demand That Biglaw Firms Disclose Whether Students Will Be Forced to Sign Arbitration Agreements,” Above the Law (May 14, 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2ILJMZU).

 

Ms. Hershenberg is Vice President of Programs and Public Policy at CPR. She can be reached at ahershenberg@cpradr.org.

How to Tank a Mediation Without Even Trying

By James P.S. Leshaw

LeshawEvery so often, you may want to tank a mediation. Maybe you know in advance it can’t settle. Maybe the blood is so bad between lawyers or clients that you just want to teach a lesson to the other side.  It could be that you think the judge or arbitrator is really enjoying all of the discovery disputes or doesn’t have enough to do. Whatever the reason, based on my experience as a mediator, here are the top ten ways to blow a mediation (as well as some light reading).

  1. Promise your client (preferably in writing) that there is no way he can lose at trial. Also, be sure to under-estimate the cost of the litigation both in terms of the cost of fees and expenses as well as the client’s expected time-commitment and anticipated loss of sleep. This should sufficiently reduce the client’s incentive to settle at mediation.
  2. Do not submit a mediation statement to either the mediator or the other side. The reality is that the mediation statement serves very little purpose other than to educate the mediator and the other side to the strengths of your case. If you do decide to deliver a mediation statement anyway, consider using it as an opportunity to educate the mediator on how unreasonable the other side is (though this should be obvious to any experienced mediator as the other side has not yet caved to your demands). You may also choose to inundate the mediator and other side with copies of pleadings you have already filed in the case, with no explanation as to their relevance.
  3. Do not personally attend the mediation – your attendance might send the message that you are serious about settling. Instead, send a junior associate who has had little or no involvement with the litigation, who does not know the factual or legal issues and who does not have the confidence or trust  of the client. This will help to ensure that the mediation is not successful.
  4. Be efficient when preparing for the mediation (assuming you decide to attend). Do not focus on the law or the facts – the other side must already be familiar with these or be too dense to understand your version of the law or the facts. Focus on the important stuff like making the mediation personal.  Be prepared to embarrass opposing counsel by talking about their procedural gaffes in this case or their losses in other cases. This is really just constructive criticism.
  5. Do not make an opening statement at the mediation – simply state that your position is already clear. Should you decide to make an opening statement, be sure to point out how unreasonable the other side has been for not simply giving in, explain you are not prepared to compromise in any way, but have a “take it or leave it” offer. Also, don’t forget to remind the other side and the mediator that you have scheduled only one hour for the mediation because you need to be back at your office to take a phone call.
  6. Do not bring your client to the mediation. Instead tell the other side that the client is available by telephone or that you already have settlement authority. Should your client inconveniently decide to show up at the mediation, make sure he does not participate in the mediation. You’re being paid to attend the mediation so you should respond to any questions or comments made to your client by the mediator or the other side. This is your case after all.
  7. If your client is the defendant, cry poverty but do not provide any financial information to support the claim.
  8. Do not admit that your case has any weaknesses at all, including in a private session with the mediator. So long as you bury your head in the sand, neither the mediator nor the other side will realize there is a potential chink in your client’s armor.
  9. Yell, scream and pound on the table so everyone in the room knows you really mean what you are saying.
  10. If it looks like the case may settle despite your best efforts, be prepared to pack your bag and leave. The best exit is a dramatic exit.

About Jim Leshaw:

Jim Leshaw is a mediator and arbitrator based in Miami and Key Biscayne, Florida.  He handles a wide variety of commercial disputes throughout the United States, Latin America and Europe.  He also sits on the board of directors of Avianca Holdings, S.A. (NYSE:  AVH), the Latin American based airline. He can be reached at Jim@LeshawLaw.com.

This post originally appeared in Law360, and was republished with permission.

Opiate Crisis Faces Two Tracks, Settlement and Litigation

By Ginsey Varghese

The potentially vast opioid litigation has received a big push for an alternative dispute resolution intervention.

In December, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) consolidated and transferred more than 400 opiate-related cases to Ohio’s Northern U.S. District Court under the oversight of Judge Dan Aaron Polster.

And Polster immediately said he will push for a solution to get a handle on the cases filed against manufacturers by cities and counties and bring on special masters to handle the negotiations. Jan Hoffman, Can This Judge Solve the Opioid Crisis? N.Y. Times (Mar. 5) (available at http://nyti.ms/2Fhx7sK).

The plaintiffs in the MDL are cities, counties and states, though some states participating in the MDL settlement discussions have filed separate suits.

The consolidated case under Judge Polster is called In re Nat’l Prescription Opiate Litigation. In re Nat’l Prescription Opiate Lit., No. MDL 2804, 2017 WL 6031547,*1 (J.P.M.L. Dec. 5, 2017)(available at https://bit.ly/2G3EELQ). The court’s case page is available at https://bit.ly/2qDbbmg.

Opioid makers and distributers, including individual doctors, are accused of creating a public-health crisis with their mishandling of the potent drugs, estimated to kill 180 people in the U.S. daily from misuse. Opioids are painkillers, and they range from prescription drugs to illegal heroin.

Judge Polster said in the first hearing on Jan. 9 that he will drive the case toward settlement. He explained the importance of meaningful resolution. He said, “I don’t think anyone in the country is interested in a whole lot of finger pointing . . . depositions, and discovery, and trials.  . . . [W]ith all these smart people here and their clients, I’m confident we can do something to . . . make sure that the pills manufactured and distributed go to the right people and no one else, and that there can be an effective system to monitor delivery and distribution.  . . .” Transcript of Proceedings (Doc 58) at 411-12, In re Nat’l Prescription Opiate Litig., No. MDL 2804 (N.D. Ohio Jan. 9, 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2DPT1BA).

The parties suggested three names to serve as Special Masters–David Cohen, a Cleveland-based special master with experience in mass torts and antitrust (see www.specialmaster.law); Cathy Yanni, a JAMS Inc. neutral in San Francisco who has worked as a special master on pharmaceutical cases (see www.jamsadr.com/yanni/), and Duke University Prof. Francis McGovern, of Durham, N.C., who also has worked as a special master in pharmaceutical cases (see https://law.duke.edu/fac/mcgovern/). Id. at 414.

Polster had said that there been substantial progress made in settlement discussions since January, but several barriers “to a global resolution” identified prompted the establishment of “limited litigation track, including discovery, motion practice, and bellwether trials.” Minutes of 3/6/2018 Conference and Order, In re Nat’l Prescription Opiate Litig., No. MDL 2804 (N.D. Ohio Mar. 7, 2018) (available at https://bit.ly/2HZmdZy); see also, Amanda Bronstad, Opioid Judge Allows Some Discovery, Motions to Go Forward in MDL, Nat’l L. J. (Mar. 7, 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2HYeriy).

This was followed by an April 11 discovery order by Polster (available at https://bit.ly/2KiSSen). The National Law Journal termed the case management order—the first in the MDL–“aggressive,” noting it targets the litigation track to a first-quarter 2019 trial date. Amanda Bronstead, Polster Sets Aggressive Discovery Schedule, Slating Opioid Trial for March 2019, Nat’l L. J. (Apr. 12)(available at https://bit.ly/2FhYdPy).

Polster identified some of the cases that would proceed on the litigation track in the order. The Bloomberg article above notes that allowing local governments and opioid makers’ attorneys to prepare for trial may be the quickest way to overcome some of the barriers to settlement, which include causation issues.

A settlement conference is scheduled for May 10, announced earlier this year and confirmed in an order by Polster earlier this week (available at https://bit.ly/2HTzc2g).

If no deal can be reached, Polster noted in the first hearing that he is prepared to try Ohio’s claims against opioid makers in 2019. Transcript of Proceedings (Doc 58) at 412-13, above.

* * *

More details will appear in an expanded article later this spring in Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation.

The author was a CPR Institute 2018 intern. She is a law student at Pepperdine University’s School of Law in Malibu, Calif.  

CPR Philadelphia Regional Meeting at Stradley Ronon on Effective Mediation Strategies for Client and Counsel

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By Anna M. Hershenberg, Esq., Vice President, Programs and Public Policy, CPR

On April 10, 2018, the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (“CPR”) held its first Philadelphia regional meeting at the offices of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, LLP, a long-standing CPR member and first recipient, more than a decade ago, of CPR’s “Law Firm Award for Excellence in Alternative Dispute Resolution” for the firm’s commitment to principled and creative conflict management and resolution.

The meeting drew more than 130 people, with the attendees split evenly between in-house counsel from Fortune 500 companies, trial attorneys from the nation’s top law firms, and highly sought-after neutrals. The prominent attendees included 15 former judges and general counsels and chief legal officers from Aetna Inc., Comcast Corp., Deloitte, General Motors Corp., GlaxoSmithKline, Hewlett-Packard Co., Independence Blue Cross, Johnson & Johnson, KPMG LLP, Merck & Co., Monsanto Co., Pfizer Inc., TE Connectivity Ltd., Triumph Group. Inc., and Verizon Communications Inc., among others.

The program, “Effective Mediation Strategies for Client and Counsel,” was divided into three parts.  Bennett G. Picker, Senior Counsel at Stradley Ronon, CPR neutral and member of CPR’s Council, and Noah Hanft, President and CEO of CPR, kicked off the meeting with welcoming remarks.

Wharton School lecturer and mediation trainer Eric Max then led the first part of the program, “Negotiating Strategies for Clients and Counsel,” by facilitating an interactive discussion among the in-house counsel, outside counsel and mediator audience members.  Professor Max outlined the multiple layers of negotiation occurring at any given time during a mediation.  He challenged the audience with provocative questions, such as pressing each stakeholder to reveal if they lie to each other during the course of a mediation and exploring the reasons for their conduct.

After a networking coffee break, the program resumed with Sophia Lee, Partner at Blank Rome and former Chief Litigation Counsel at Sunoco Inc., skillfully moderating a panel discussion on the keys to effective preparation and advocacy with panelists Francine Friedman Griesing, Managing Member of Griesing Law; Scott S. Partridge, Vice President of Global Strategy at Monsanto and a member of CPR’s Board of Directors; and John Wright, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Triumph Group.  Of particular interest to the attendees was Mr. Partridge’s explanation of how he created a relationship-based conflict identification and resolution process to shrink Monsanto’s – and then the entire industry’s – litigation portfolio.

The highlight of evening came when the Honorable Timothy K. Lewis (Ret.), Counsel at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, former federal circuit and district court judge and Chair of CPR’s Diversity Task Force, and Mr. Picker led the third part of the program, “Promoting Diversity in Mediation.”  Mr. Picker – who has been championing diversity and leading by example for decades – provided concrete steps that in-house counsel, outside counsel and mediators can take to drive diversity and inclusion in the dispute resolution field.  Judge Lewis then delivered deeply moving and personal remarks on his experiences as a black attorney and federal court judge in a predominately white legal world.  He challenged the audience to mentor colleagues from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, reminding them that everyone got to where they are by standing on someone else’s shoulders, and “that talent is distributed equally across all races and ethnicities and genders and identities. Opportunity is not.”

He set out his vision for what true workplace inclusion should look like and how to achieve it: “The goal here is not to be included simply because of race or gender; the goal is not to be excluded simply because of these qualities. But in order for us to get there, we have to make a concerted effort, and we must challenge ourselves, our assumptions, and sometimes each other.”  Judge Lewis’s remarks, which received a standing ovation, will appear in Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, CPR’s monthly international newsletter (see altnewsletter.com).

benandtimlewis

Pictured: Bennett G. Picker and Honorable Timothy K. Lewis (Ret.) 

The evening concluded with closing remarks by Thomas J. Sabatino, Jr., CPR Board Vice Chair and Senior Vice President, General Counsel, Law & Regulatory Affairs at Aetna and a networking cocktail reception.

In short, the CPR Philadelphia Regional Meeting introduced attendees to what CPR does best: create opportunities for high-level conversations between inside and outside counsel and provide businesses with the tools to cultivate a corporate culture that embraces diversity of perspective, and early and creative ways to prevent and resolve business disputes.

 

About CPR

CPR is an independent nonprofit organization that, for more than 40 years, has helped global businesses prevent and resolve commercial disputes effectively and efficiently. CPR’s membership consists of top corporations and law firms, academic and government institutions, and leading mediators and arbitrators around the world. CPR is unique as: (1) a thought leader, driving a global dispute resolution culture; (2) a developer of cutting-edge tools and resources, powered by the collective innovation of its membership; and (3) an ADR provider offering innovative, practical arbitration rules, mediation and other dispute resolution procedures, and neutrals worldwide. For more information, please visit www.cpradr.org.

 

About Stradley Ronon

Stradley Ronon attorneys have served with distinction as neutrals, both independently and under the auspices of ADR provider organizations such as the American Arbitration Association, the International Centre for Dispute Resolution, and the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR). Stradley Ronon attorneys have built a reputation for fairness and creative problem solving and are highly regarded for their ability to understand complex commercial transactions and cutting-edge technologies. In recognition of its commitment to principled and creative conflict-management and resolution, Stradley Ronon’s ADR practice group received CPR’s inaugural Law Firm Award for Excellence in Alternative Dispute Resolution. For more information, please visit https://www.stradley.com/

THE MASTER MEDIATORS/ Part I: On Joint Sessions

mastermediators

One of the panels at CPR’s recent annual meeting in Atlanta featured three master mediators: Eric D. Green, of Resolutions, LLC; Hon. Layn R. Phillips, Phillips ADR; and Linda R. Singer, Esq., a JAMS and CPR Neutral.

Guided by moderator Jana Litsey, Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel and Secretary of The Huntington National Bank, our panelists shared views and best practice tips on the ADR process they know so well. This post, the first in a series, will focus on the almost curiously controversial topic of joint sessions.

***

“We call it the disappearing joint session,” said Eric Green. “As all parts of a mediation are potentially valuable, I think the trend away from the joint session is a big loss, reflecting a misunderstanding of its potential and use and value. Of course, there are no rules in mediation except that there are no rules in mediation. Every case is different.”

Green noted that lawyers will typically insist no joint session is needed and would in fact be a waste of time—especially if they have him only for one day—because the case is mature and well known to both sides. While he agreed that those would be potential negatives, he has observed over time that the parties rarely in fact understand each other’s cases. Joint sessions have the potential to begin to close that gap.

“When you think about it,” he explained, “the joint session is your best and last opportunity to speak directly to other side. They are your audience and, to have a successful outcome, you must get them to agree to something you will accept. Assuming the session has been properly prepared—with private telephone calls between you and the mediator ahead of time, and with mediation statements exchanged—this is the start of a day’s worth of negotiation and your chance to get your message across to the other side (hopefully someone with real authority). This is your opportunity to establish a connection, demonstrate that you are prepared to be reasonable if they are, and to address the strongest arguments in the other side’s mediation statement.”

Joint sessions also serve an important purpose for the mediator, Green stressed. “If I need to say something to the other side at 5 p.m., I really want you to have said it at 9 a.m. so I can tie my message back to yours. It gives me a mechanism to deliver what is sometimes tough feedback to the other side by deflecting some of it, which can be very helpful.”

Green cautioned, “This is not an opportunity for you to get some emotional satisfaction by beating up on the other side. So don’t waste your time repeating your strongest points or engaging in threats or bombast. Don’t try to stand up and impress your client. And don’t try to impress the mediator—they are not the judge and jury.”

Green summed up, “No one has ever stood up in joint session, like in Perry Mason, and said, ‘I get it now, I’m guilty. I’ll withdraw my case.’ But it starts the process of people beginning to understand risk and see things from the other side’s perspective.”

Jana

JAMS and CPR Neutral, Linda R. Singer, described what she sees as a clear regional split, with colleagues on the West Coast coming down on the side of never seeming to utilize the joint session process, with East Coast colleagues being much more open to it.

“Some judge mediators are unaccustomed to managing conflict,” Singer surmised. “It makes them nervous.” But she agreed that the joint session process can be a real opportunity. “The hardest thing,” she described, “is when I convene a conference call and they tell me they’ve all agreed and don’t need a joint session, because it’ll take us until after lunch to get back to where we are in the process now, but then at 4 pm in the afternoon we are still saying the same things we were saying at the start of the day.”

Our third panelist, Layn Phillips, of Phillips ADR, was less enthusiastic about joint sessions than his colleagues. He tends to advocate for shared or exchanged mediation briefs and reply submissions, he explained, and holds the view that mediators mainly earn their money in private caucus sessions. But he did agree that there were circumstances (e.g., in some securities cases) where the joint session, or what he likes to call the “targeted session,” is helpful on topics like damages.

“You might have 25-page opening submissions and several reply briefs,” Phillips explained, “but only three paragraphs dealing with damages, so it would not be uncommon for me in this situation to tell the parties I wanted a focused targeted joint session on damages. This may not necessarily be an opening joint session, but one which could take place later in the day.”

Another example might be if a case is very close to trial. Sometimes this can be a helpful reality check for the clients. “Much depends on your client representatives,” Phillips added. “If they are very sophisticated and prepared, and you’re convinced from pre-mediation submissions and calls that they know the case, having them sit there while a very talented trial lawyer takes their case apart is not necessarily helpful.”

“As everyone here knows,” Phillips summed up, “we’ve all been to joint sessions that are incendiary, or that cover ground that is not only well ploughed but well fertilized, so I try to be very focused on when and under what circumstances I recommend this process.”

Eric Green reported also finding joint sessions to be useful when there are complex technical issues, such as those arising in construction, design or financial cases. In fact, while this is unusual, he reported having a joint session last as long as a week in a case involving technical exchanges involving nuclear plants. “If the parties are insisting on a principles-based and merit-based approach to resolution,” he concluded, “joint sessions can provide an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve heard the merits of the case. Then the parties can start discussing dollar amounts.”

Layn Phillips provided the final word on this topic, noting that it is not uncommon for him to hold joint sessions late in the day, particularly on non-monetary terms. “The last thing you want to do is to have a quiet, dignified search for a number, and then find out that the parties disagree on fundamental terms such as indemnification or non-monetary points that will turn out to have monetary value.”

Stay tuned to CPR Speaks for more tips from our master mediators, and more great content from AM18…

 

Success: Many Controversial Amendments to CPLR’s Article 75 on Arbitration Via NY State 2018 Budget Bill Removed

By Ginsey Varghese

Via budget bill AB 9505 for fiscal year 2018-2019, the New York State (NYS) Assembly proposed several amendments to Article 75 of the NY Civil Practice Law & Rules (CPLR), rules governing arbitrations. AB 9505, print 9505c §§ 6-10, p.189-192 (Jan. 18, 2018).

In responses in late March, arbitral institutions, including CPR and AAA, as well as the New York State Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Section and the New York City Bar Association’s Arbitration Committee and International Commercial Disputes Committee, issued comments about the proposed amendments to Article 75 of the CPLR, raising concerns and highlighting the expected negative impact on New York’s pro-arbitration reputation.

Some of the key concerns on the earlier draft of the bill (AB9505c) were as follows:

  • NY CPLR § 7507, as currently written, requires that an arbitration award must be in writing. The proposed amendments would have required that all arbitral awards “state the issues in dispute and contain the arbitrator’s findings of fact and conclusions of law.” at §8, p.191 lines 31-34.  This proposal was criticized for importing litigation concepts – “findings of fact and conclusions of law” –  incongruent with arbitration, creating additional cost and confusion.  Moreover, parties in an arbitration, especially sophisticated ones, often do not seek formal court-like decisions, rather, “reasoned” awards and the freedom to design a process for the parties involved.  The proposed amendment would have essentially rendered impossible creative and collaborative approaches to dispute resolution.
  • In proposed amendments to NY CPLR § 7511, the bill would have codified “manifest disregard of the law” of an arbitrator as additional grounds to vacate an award. Id at 9, p. 191 lines 51-52. Manifest disregard of the law is a highly controversial doctrine, and courts across the country have not considered it uniformly because it is often criticized as diminishing the finality of arbitration awards. Claudia Salomon, New York Vacates Arbitral Award with Manifest Disregard Doctrine, 258(25) N.Y. L.J. (Aug. 7, 2017) (available at http://bit.ly/2DL3vCq).  New York courts have rarely used the “manifest disregard” standard, reflecting respect for the arbitral process and thereby maintaining New York State’s pro-arbitration reputation.  Id.
  • Under the proposed amendments to NY CPLR § 7504, concerning the “appointment of an arbitrator,” the bill requires all arbitrators to be “non-neutral third-party arbitrator[s],” adding also that it was a non-waivable requirement. AB 9505 §6, p.190 lines 1-9. Would the common practice of party-selected arbitrators on a panel render the arbitrator “non-neutral”?  What about choice for sophisticated parties desiring an expert to adjudicate? The core concerns were the lack of clarity concerning the definition of “neutrality” and the failure to respect the principle of party autonomy, a fundamental benefit of arbitration.
  • Proposed amendments to NY CPLR § 7504 would also have allowed the parties to wait until the eve of the arbitration hearing to raise objections to the arbitrator(s), even if the party knew of grounds earlier, setting the stage for disruption and delay tactics in the arbitration. (AB 9505 § 6, p. 190 lines 45-48.)

The Ways and Means Committee omitted the proposed amendments to Article 75 of the CPLR in its latest draft (9505d) on March 28, 2018 – a major victory for the New York arbitral community, which had cautioned that “considering amendments of this magnitude in the context of a budget bill does not provide the level of due process and scrutiny decades of New York arbitration practice deserves” and had urged the legislature to “allow a thorough review, hearings and an opportunity for public comment.” CPR, Comments on Sections 6-11 of New York Assembly Bill 9505 (Mar. 23, 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2ElR9Rp); 2017 Bill Tracking NY A.B. 9505.

On March 29, 2018, the bill (without the above-referenced amendments) passed both floor votes in the NY State Senate and the NY State Assembly and is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s approval. AB 9505, §§ 6-10, p.189-192 (Jan. 18, 2018).

The entire bill – AB 9505 – in its latest form is available at: http://bit.ly/2pvMTcv.

Another piece of budget legislation to monitor is S7507-C/AB9507-C, which will impact the arbitration of sexual harassment claims. AB 9507, Part KK, Subpart B, §1, p.80-81, lines 22-54 (available at https://bit.ly/2uMRmxu).

The bill renders mandatory arbitration clauses in sexual harassment claims “null and void.” Id. at p. 80, line 52.

On March 30, 2018, S7507-C/AB9507-C also passed floor votes in the NY State Senate and the NY State Assembly and is currently before the Governor Cuomo. Id.

Governor Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law. Vivian Wang, New York Rewrites Harassment Laws, but Some Say the Changes Fall Short, N.Y. Times (Mar. 30, 2018) (available at https://nyti.ms/2HfX11O).

The bill is a part of broader state proposal to address sexual harassment in the workplace. See Summary of the Assembly Recommended Changes to the Executive Budget, Legislative Reports, at 76 (Mar. 13, 2018) (available at https://bit.ly/2Hwt64p).

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, NY’s move to address sexual harassment mirrors a larger effort nationally as “29 states have introduced [similar] sexual harassment bills in 2018.” Wang, supra.


The author is a CPR Institute 2018 intern. She is a law student at Pepperdine University’s School of Law in Malibu, Calif.