EEOC (and Congress) Rolls Back ADR Policy

By Cai Phillips-Jones

A new U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule affecting the agency’s conciliation process became effective Feb. 16, but was repealed via a Senate resolution last month. The May 19 Senate move signals “disapproval”; In order for the rule to be fully overturned, the House will have to vote on the joint resolution, and it must be signed into law by President Biden.

Passage is likely in House, where it awaits consideration. The conciliation process rule, devised under the Trump Administration, drew fire from Democrats because it required more information in early stages of discrimination complaints to be provided to employers, and critics said that could spark retaliations.  Republican supporters said the process supported settlements. See, e.g., Daniel Wiessner, “Senate votes to repeal EEOC settlement rule that ID’ed bias victims,” Reuters (May 19) (available at https://reut.rs/3wcIYCG).

Conciliation is a mediation-like process that aims to increase the speed at which EEOC complainants get relief. Conciliation is conducted by an EEOC investigator rather than a third-party mediator, and takes place after the agency has found evidence of discrimination.

The new rule required the EEOC to share the factual and legal basis of any findings of discrimination with employers about findings of discrimination during the conciliation process. The rule aims to increase the transparency of the conciliation process by providing the employer with more information about their potential liability.

The rule has been viewed as a rollback of the Supreme Court decision in Mach Mining v. EEOC, 575 U.S. 480 (2015) (available at https://bit.ly/2TmuMZg), which limited the amount of information employers received about EEOC discrimination findings.

The Senate vote to overturn the new conciliation rule is the latest example of EEOC rules changing since the Biden administration took office. In addition to this rule change, a conciliation pilot program was ended earlier than expected, in January. The pilot program made a small change to the existing EEOC program by mandating that settlement offers be shared with “appropriate levels of [EEOC] management” before being shared with the respondent.

In January, the EEOC also ended a mediation pilot program, which expanded the use of mediation to additional case types and during more phases of the EEOC administrative process. The mediation pilot program was announced on July 7, 2020, and was originally scheduled to run for six months, ending in January 2021. On Jan. 6, the pilot was extended until September, 2021. But the EEOC reversed course weeks later, and under new Biden Administration EEOC leadership, ended the program on Jan. 27.

In addition to expanding the availability of mediation, the pilot program also increased the use of video-conferencing mediation and electronic feedback from mediation participants. The video conferencing and electronic communication elements will be carried forward from the pilot program, as will the ability for parties to request a mediation at any point during the EEOC process.

It appears that the only major part of the pilot not being continued is the expansion of mediation to additional case types. EEOC cases are individually evaluated for referral to mediation. Some case types, however, including class and systemic charges, have historically been exempted from mediation referrals. During the pilot, these exemptions were suspended. The end of the pilot likely signifies a return to exempt status for these cases.

In the Jan. 27 press release terminating the previously extended pilot but noting the popularity and success of EEOC mediation, the new EEOC Chair, Charlotte A. Burrows, endorsed the continuing use of mediation and conciliation when appropriate. “I strongly support the prompt and voluntary resolution of discrimination charges whenever doing so is consistent with our mission,” she noted in a statement in the release, adding, “The Commission will continue to strengthen its conciliation and mediation programs in accordance with the overarching goal of preventing and remedying discrimination in the workplace.”

Burrows was critical of the pilot program’s implementation by predecessor chair Janet Dhillon. As an EEOC Commissioner last July, Burrows, noting that the program hurt the agency’s traditional enforcement role, said that Chair Dhillon “lacks authority to institute this sweeping change unilaterally, because it contradicts policy formally approved by a Commission vote.” See Paige Smith, “EEOC Alters Mediation Process Under New Temporary Program,” Bloomberg Law (July 7, 2020) (available here).

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The author, a J.D. student who will enter his third year this fall at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

[End]

Part II: More on Workplace ADR Under the Biden Administration

In “Part I: How Workplace ADR Will Evolve Under the Biden Administration,” CPR intern Antranik Chekemian reviewed on CPR Speaks the first half of comments during an online panel discussion hosted in late February by CPR’s Employment Disputes Committee and its Government & ADR Task Force.  Washington, D.C., arbitrator Mark Kantor focused on prospects for legislative changes for employment and labor ADR issues, and possible regulation, while Mark Gaston Pierce, Visiting Professor and Executive Director of the Georgetown University Law Center Workers’ Rights Institute, covered labor developments in decisions of the National Labor Relations Board, where he served as chairman from 2011 to 2017.  After their presentations, panel moderator Arthur Pearlstein, who is Director of Arbitration for the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, turned to panelist Kathryn Siegel, a shareholder in Littler Mendelsohn’s Chicago office, before concluding with a general discussion. Highlights from the second half of the program appear below.

* * *

By Antranik Chekemian

Kathryn Siegel mainly focused on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which, like the National Labor Relations Board, also has five members.

Siegel noted that she did not expect to see drastic EEOC policy changes during the Biden administration. Even though the chair has recently been changed by President Biden, a Republican majority still exists in the commission.

The general counsel at the Feb. 24 seminar date, Sharon Fast Gustafson, was fired by Biden March 5, and replaced by veteran EEOC attorney Gwendolyn Young Reams, who is now Acting General Counsel. Gustafson was a Republican appointee whose term would not have expired until August 2023.

Still, Siegel pointed out, “There is still going to be a Republican [board] majority through at least July of 2022, possibly through the end of 2022 because of the terms of the Republicans,” she said.  Siegel concluded that this will prevent the Biden-appointed chair from advancing Democratic policy initiatives and significant changes through at least the middle of next year.

Regarding the impact of the changes in the EEOC on arbitration/mediation, Siegel noted the “conclusion of the two six-month pilot programs relating to the agency’s conciliation and mediation efforts.”

She provided insights on the program. “The message of the… pilot was to mediate early, mediate often, mediate late, and mediate all the time,” she said. She emphasized that parties could mediate at any stage of any charge, and that it did not have to be at the outset.

She added that the parties in Category B charges—those that require more EEOC investigation to substantiate and pursue–were the ones that were being invited to mediation.  Siegel said, “What we saw during this pilot program was that you could really mediate even the EEOC’s high-priority charges that advanced an issue of law that the EEOC potentially wanted to litigate, that had . . . kind of bad facts in it.”

After the mediation pilot’s conclusion, however, there is not going to be an opportunity to mediate high priority charges. Siegel noted that even though this is a big change, it would not be difficult to adapt to this change as the pilot program was only six months long.

She also discussed the pilot program on conciliation that was launched around the same time as the mediation pilot program. The conciliation program also was officially dropped in January. Siegel, however, noted that a rule was established just before the EEOC’s chair changed. “That final rule as to the new EEOC conciliation and how that will be handled is in place for now,” she said.

Siegel added that the rule will last until the Democrats get the majority back sometime in 2022. She said that the conciliation process rule change provided that the “EEOC must provide factual support for its reasonable cause finding and its damages calculations as part of the conciliation process.”

She then discussed another 2020 change she observed with the EEOC regarding “the number of investigations and how robust those investigations were.” Even for charges that were classed as Category B, she said, requests for position statements were lower than before, and the investigations ended more quickly. She noted that this could have been the result of both the Trump administration and Covid-19, and predicted that investigations will likely ramp up again as things get back to normal post-pandemic.

“Part of that speed in which charges were pushed through and right-to-sues were issued was a result of pressure from the administration to clear a backlog,” she said, adding to “expect that there will be a little bit of the brakes put on, slowing down, to make sure that each charge gets due time in investigation.”

* * *

Moderator Arthur Pearlstein then directed a question to panelist Mark Kantor regarding how administrative actions could potentially affect class action waivers and arbitration. Pearlstein further asked Kantor to clarify the 2019 U.S. Supreme Court Lamps Plus decision.

Kantor noted that Lamps Plus provides that “the presumption is that arbitration is individualized and there is not collective arbitration unless the arbitration clause clearly provides for that.” He also said, however, that “in most circumstances . . . the question of what the arbitration clause says would be delegated to the arbitrator.”

In Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S.Ct. 1407 (2019), the U.S. Supreme Court provided that because the individualized form of arbitration was envisioned by the Federal Arbitration Act, “Courts may not infer from an ambiguous agreement that parties have consented to arbitration on a classwide basis.” The decision further notes that the class arbitration lacks the benefits of individualized arbitration. “It [class arbitration] sacrifices the principal advantage of arbitration – its informality – and makes the process slower, more costly, and more likely to generate procedural morass than final judgment.”

Kantor said, “A very large number of arbitration clauses in employment agreements, consumer contracts and the like . . . expressly waive the right to bring a class proceeding in arbitration as well as in court.”

He concluded that “a regulatory measure from an independent agency or an executive agency would prohibit that claim . . . in a contract so long as it was aimed at all forums. Not focusing on arbitration has a good chance of passing muster under [Epic Systems v. Lewis] and that might override the literally millions of clauses out there in existing contracts that provide for waivers of class proceedings.”

Pearlstein then noted the “obvious difficulty in getting major legislation passed regarding labor and employment issues” and asked the panelists about the chances of less-dramatic piecemeal legislation passing in Congress. He also asked about the Biden administration’s role with administrative actions and whether it means agencies like the National Labor Relations Board and the EEOC “become more important than they have ever been, or, certainly, in a long time?”

Siegel said that rulemaking has already been used a substitute for doing things at the NLRB, and that this was effective in dictating policy goals. She added that this was an alternative presented at the agency level as a common law substitute. “They did not want to have to wait for the case to come up before them to rule,” she said, and “in lieu of waiting for Congress and having to pass legislation that is not exactly what they would want and as a compromise, that would be an alternative.”

Mark Gaston Pearce said that “rulemaking will show up and go the other direction and use up a lot of agency resources in that regard.” Regarding a piecemeal legislative approach, Pearce noted that it’s “more likely than a wholesale acceptance of a statute like the PRO Act, because there may not be enough Democratic senators — much less Republicans — that are going to buy into the entire measure, but as Mark Kantor suggests, it’s very possible that they can tag on particular key measures of the PRO Act into must-have legislation in order to get some of that across.”

There was a question from the audience asking whether there is proposed federal legislation that would restrict waivers of jury trials, which companies might use as an alternative to class-action waivers.


Mark Kantor responded that he was not aware of any standalone legislation aiming at prohibiting jury-trial waivers. He said, “We do know that several states have enacted legislation, for example, California and Georgia, achieving that result in their own state courts, but at the federal level, again, you’re going to run into the filibuster, so it’s unlikely you would find Republican support in the Senate for legislation like that, and it is equally unlikely that you could obtain 60 votes, a closure vote to override filibuster. It’s not going to be budget reconciliation, which means you’re looking at appending it to a must-pass legislation.”

Panelist Kathryn Siegel also noted that states attempt to accomplish certain goals when it’s not possible at the federal level, especially in the context of arbitration limits. “We have seen states,” she said, “such as Illinois, trying to . . . make their own rules as to arbitration and when you can require arbitration of disputes.” She further added even though such laws are going to be preempted by the FAA, many states pass them “hoping that they have crafted it in a way that it avoids the issues that other states have had or that no one will notice.”

An attendee asked the panel whether they “expect a Biden majority to overturn the NLRB’s General Motors decision by re-implementing the specific tests for evaluating discipline for conduct that occurred during protected concerted activity, instead of the Wright Line standard.”

According to the new standard provided by the General Motors decision, the NLRB General Counsel must show that “(1) the employee engaged in Section 7 activity, (2) the employer knew of that activity, and (3) the employer had animus against the Section 7 activity, which must be proven with evidence sufficient to establish a causal relationship between the discipline and the Section 7 activity.”

The General Motors decision provided that the conflict between the anti-discrimination laws and the setting-specific standards explained below required the adoption of the Wright Line standard. The NLRB further cited the EEOC and mentioned that discrimination laws do not forgive abusive conduct when it arises from heated feelings about working conditions or because crude language is common in the workplace. The decision also characterized the setting-specific standards to be “wholly indifferent to employers’ legal obligations to prevent hostile work environments on the basis of protected traits.”

The General Motors case replaced several setting-specific standards:

  • The Atlantic Steel standard on workplace discussions with management: To determine whether abusive conduct by the employee during protected concerted activity was severe enough to lose the National Labor Relations Act’s protection, the Board had  applied a four-factor standard: (1) the place of the discussion; (2) the subject matter of the discussion; (3) the nature of the employee’s outburst; and (4) whether the outburst was, in any way, provoked by an employer’s unfair labor practice. General Motors noted that because the Board had not assigned any specific weight to any of these factors, the Board’s application of these factors resulted in inconsistent outcomes over the years. Furthermore, the second factor – the subject matter of the discussion – favored the protection of the employees as the Atlantic Steel factors only applied when the subject matter was related to Section 7 activity. NLRA Section 7 provides that “employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations… and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid protection.” The Board in General Motors also criticized the shortcomings of the Atlantic Steel standard as it was “giving little, if any, consideration to employers’ right to maintain order and respect.”
  • The totality of the circumstances on social media posts and coworker discussions: The General Motors decision also replaced the totality of the circumstances standard that had applied to social-media posts and coworker discussions. “The Board’s flexibility in considering a wider of range of facts in each specific circumstance promises to create the same, if not more, inconsistency and unpredictability,” noted the decision.
  • The Clear Pine Mouldings Test for conduct taking place on the picket line: Cases that applied the 1978 Clear Pine Mouldings test had found that the employees lose NLRA protection only when “it involves an overt or implied threat or where there is reasonable likelihood of an imminent physical confrontation.” General Motors noted that, “As a result, the Board has found appallingly abusive picket-line misconduct to retain protection, including racially and sexually offensive language.”

The NLRB further concluded in General Motors that absent evidence of discrimination against Section 7 activity, there is no merit of “finding violations of federal labor law against employers that act in good faith to maintain civil, inclusive, and healthy workplaces for their employees. These results [from setting-specific standards] simply do not advance the Board’s mission of promoting labor peace or any of the other principles animating the Act.”

After the General Motors decision, the Trump-appointed Chairman, John F. Ring praised the decision. “For too long,” he stated, “the Board has protected employees who engage in obscene, racist, and sexually harassing speech not tolerated in almost any workplace today. Our decision in General Motors ends this unwarranted protection, eliminates the conflict between the NLRA and antidiscrimination laws, and acknowledges that the expectations for employee conduct in the workplace have changed.” President Biden replaced Ring on Jan. 20 with NLRB member Lauren McFerran; Ring’s board term continues through Dec. 16, 2022.

Panelist Mark Gaston Pearce noted that the applicability of the Wright Line standard during protected concerted activity should be fleshed out and that it was an overreach. Even though Pearce said he believed there was a need for a fix with respect to Title 7-type situations, the test could have been within the realm of the existing test–the Clear Pine Mouldings test.

Pearce further acknowledged Clear Pine Mouldings’ shortcomings, noting that under this test, “racial and sexual derogatory remarks were not sufficient to take protection away from the actor, because they were not violence or threats of violence.” He noted that the NLRB had failed to look at the situations from the viewpoint of the recipient of those kinds of remarks, and what kind of reaction that had.

Pearce expressed his concerns regarding the new Wright Line standard that when it comes to obscene or profane remarks made during the heat of the moment or during an exchange between someone engaged in protected concerted activity and management, noting that such circumstances should be treated differently.

He further added that the Wright Line standard does not respond to what happens when management has provoked a response in the course of protected concerted activity. He further explained:

It may well be while that standard exists, these issues are going to have to be fleshed out before an arbitrator who is using the just-cause standard. Because of course if someone was provoked into something in a unionized setting, and it comes out in an arbitration, . . . [the] arbitrator has the ability to weigh those kinds of determinations and [make] an assessment as to whether or not there was just cause for them to act the way it did.

In a non-union setting, that opportunity does not present itself, so there is an inequitable situation there. Furthermore, if employees don’t know what they can say or how they should say, they will censor, self-censor and deny themselves the ability to engage in rights protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The Supreme Court says, and there are several cases that say, that the NLRB and the courts are not in the business of making civility codes.

A seminar attendee asked the panel, “What changes in labor arbitration should we expect with federal agencies like the VA, Capitol Police, Bureau of Prisons, military bases, etc.?”

Moderator Pearlstein first responded that the Capitol Police is not under the Federal Labor Relations Act authority. As to federal agencies in general, he said, “There are dramatic changes on the horizon once the makeup of the NLRB changes . . . and once things rotate into a Democratic majority.”

He said that “the changes under the Trump board at the NLRB were so dramatic, reversing so much precedent, that I think you’re going to start seeing quite a lot of change as that catches up.”

Regarding executive orders, Pearlstein noted that “the president has already reversed all the executive orders basically that applied to the federal workplace.”

There was a question asking whether the EEOC will go back to its prior policy criticizing mandatory arbitration once the Democrats get the majority.

Panelist Kathryn Siegel responded that the “EEOC and most of the federal agencies . . . once they are able to effectuate Democratic policies, they are going to pretend like the last four years were just a nightmare and return as quickly as possible to the policies and the plans that they had prior to the Trump election.”

Therefore, she said, it is likely that there will be a return to what was being advanced by Democrats four years ago.

Panelist Pearce added that NLRB’s “only issue was solely with respect to class-action waivers. The NLRB didn’t challenge mandatory arbitration, because the FAA . . . [and] other Supreme Court cases [concluded] that mandatory arbitration is the rule of the day.”

Pearce said the NLRB’s Epic Systems concern was “the flip handling of what constitutes concerted activity  . . and what kind of impact that will have on future cases.” He added, “Certainly, this Trump board did its best to clamp down on protected concerted activity definitions and issued some cases that really restricted that. I agree in that respect that the Biden board will go in the other direction.”

Another attendee asked: “Is there any attempt to have Congress address the extent to which the Federal Arbitration Act can be used?”

Said panelist Mark Kantor, “That is exactly what the FAIR Act will aim at. It will pass the House. It will get hearings and committee action in the Senate. but it seems highly unlikely that it will be enacted by the Senate over a filibuster in light of vote counting,” said Kantor (see links above to Kantor’s discussion in Part I, which also includes links to his CPR Speaks articles on the subject).

Moderator Arthur Pearlstein then asked whether there will be an effect on the market for labor and employment arbitration under the Biden administration.

Panelist Siegel replied that the NLRB Trump Board policy was to defer to arbitration as frequently and as early as possible. In 2019, the Board replaced the Babcock standard and returned to the less rigorous standards of Spielberg/Olin [cited and explained in Babcock] to defer to arbitration in cases alleging discharge and discipline in violation of NLRA Sections 8(a)(3) and (1).

Siegel noted that fewer cases were being decided by the Board when there was a parallel proceeding in arbitration. Considering the possibility of a new Board reverting to the Babcock standard which makes arbitration less likely, Siegel concluded that it followed that this could negatively affect the number of cases in the labor and employment arbitration market.

Finally, Mark Kantor mentioned that in its 2019 decision, New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, “the Supreme Court made clear that the exclusion from enforcement of arbitration agreements under the Federal Arbitration Act for transportation workers did extend to an independent trucker, by application to independent contractors in the transportation field.”

He noted that “the Court was very careful to signal that the interpretation was only to apply to the Federal Arbitration Act and not to any other legislation. There was nothing in that decision signaling that the Court might wish to rethink its interpretation of the exclusion to go beyond transportation workers into other industries.”

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

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You can read the final installment of Antranik Chekemian’s report on the CPR workplace and employment seminar at Part III: Deference Change–Analysis of a Shift on a Labor Arbitration Review Standard (April 26).

[END]

House Passes ‘PRO’ Act, Which Includes Arbitration Restrictions

By Mark Kantor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[END]

The Reaction: Here’s What They’re Saying in the Wake of the Senate’s Vote to Overturn the CFPB Arbitration Rule

By Elena Gurevich and Russ Bleemer

Last night in a narrow 51-50 vote, Senate Republicans overturned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that would have allowed the consumers to file class action suits against financial institutions and prohibited waivers of such processes accompanied by mandatory predispute arbitration.

Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote.  See our blog post from earlier today here.

According to the New York Times, “By defeating the rule, Republicans are dismantling a major effort of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog created by Congress in the aftermath of the mortgage mess.” See Jessica Silver-Greenberg, “Consumer Bureau Loses Fight to Allow More Class-Action Suits,” N.Y. Times (Oct. 24)(available at http://nyti.ms/2yL9eHn)

Reuters, noting that the House already passed the resolution repealing the rule soon after it was released in July, observed that the resolution under the Congressional Review Act “also bars regulators from instituting a similar ban in the future.” Lisa Lambert, “Republicans, Wall Street score victory in dismantling class-action rule,” Reuters (Oct. 24)(available at http://cnb.cx/2yQd8B2).

Moments after the vote, the White House issued a statement applauding Congress for passing the resolution and stating that a recent Treasury Department report was clear evidence that “the CFPB’s rule would neither protect consumers nor serve the public interest.” The White House statement is available at http://bit.ly/2yLFOew.

President Trump is expected to sign the resolution the moment it hits his desk. This, according to Reuters, will “abruptly end a years-long fight that has included multiple federal regulators, consumer advocacy groups, and financial lobbyists.”

In its blog that closely monitors the CFPB, consumerfinancemonitor.com, Ballard Spahr, a Philadelphia-based law firm, congratulated the Senate for “its courageous action and for recognizing . . . that arbitration benefits consumers, while class action litigation benefits only the plaintiffs’ bar.”

Keith A. Noreika, the acting Comptroller of the Currency, issued a statement praising the vote and calling it “a victory for consumers and small banks across the country.” Noreika stressed the crucial role of the OCC that “identified the rule’s likely significant effect on consumers.” The OCC statement is available at http://bit.ly/2gJ1rFC.

Late Tuesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D. Mass., who was among those who defended the rule this week wrote on Twitter, “Tonight @VP Pence & the @SenateGOP gave a giant wet kiss to Wall Street. No wonder Americans think the system is rigged against them. It is.”

CNN reported that “Consumer advocates said the vote was a tremendous setback for Americans, and that it offered companies like Wells Fargo and Equifax ‘a get-out-of-jail-free card.’” Donna Borak & Ted Barrett, “Senate kills rule that made it easier to sue banks,” CNN (Oct. 25)(available at http://cnn.it/2zCxJFN).

CNN also quoted Karl Frisch, executive director of Washington’s Allied Progress, a consumer watchdog group, who said that “This repeal will hurt millions of consumers across the country by denying them their rightful day in court when they get screwed over by financial predators.”

Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit consumer advocacy group echoed this sentiment, tweeting that the “#RipoffClause enables bad actor banks like @WellsFargo to steal billions from the very consumers they defraud and get off scot free.”

***

Gurevich is a CPR Institute 2017 Fall Intern. Bleemer edits Alternatives for the CPR Institute.

The CFPB’s Arbitration Rule is Overturned by the Senate

By Elena Gurevich and Russ Bleemer

Just a day after the U.S. Treasury Department issued a report criticizing a controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that prohibited class waivers requiring consumers use mandatory predispute arbitration for disputes, the U.S. Senate voted on October 24 to overturn the rule.

The House in July had voted to overturn the rule under the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress 60 legislative-session days to reverse administrative rulings it disagrees with.

The bill will go to President Trump, who is expected to sign it.

The legislative moves will overturn five years’ worth of efforts to roll back the use of class waivers accompanied by arbitration by the CFPB, which was designated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to examine the utility of the ADR process in consumer disputes.

A 728-page 2015 study by the independent Washington agency said that arbitration was ineffective in vindicating consumers’ rights in financial services contracts, which are under the CFPB’s jurisdiction. The agency vowed to regulate arbitration.

After the report, Republicans, who long said the agency was too powerful, used the CFPB’s moves to increase calls to eliminate the agency in last year’s presidential campaign.

Late last night, Jeb Hensarling, R., Texas,  who as House Judiciary Committee chair led the fight against the rule, congratulated the Senate, noting in a statement on his social networks that the vote “is a victory for consumers, a defeat for the wealthy trial lawyers lobby and a rejection of the unchecked, unconstitutional and unaccountable CFPB.”

The CFPB had finalized its rule and published it July 19. It would have fully taken effect next year after a 180-day waiting period.

The rule, however, didn’t outlaw arbitration, though it increased the CFPB’s scrutiny by requiring reporting. The rule instead required that class processes, in either litigation or arbitration, be made available to consumers signing financing contracts or purchasing financial services.

Business lawyers, lobbyists and trade groups said the rule would wipe out financial services arbitration, because companies would rather face class action in courts, under familiar federal rules, than class arbitration with few outlets for appeal.

The Senate didn’t follow the House’s quick lead because it didn’t have the votes to overturn the rule, with some Republicans fearing a backlash for voting to support a banking industry-approved bill in the wake of scandals that invoked arbitration.

In fact, the Senate was split evenly, with two Republicans, Lindsay Graham, of South Carolina, and John Kennedy, of Louisiana, joining the Democrats. Vice President Mike Pence joined fellow Republicans to cast the deciding vote.

Treasury might have brought a senator or two to the side of overturning the law. On Monday, in a highly unusual move, the Treasury Department issued a 17-page report blasting the rule. See “Limiting Consumer Choice, Expanding Costly Litigation: An Analysis of the CFPB Arbitration Rule,” U.S. Dept. of the Treasury (Oct. 23)(available at http://bit.ly/2h0N7VB).

According to the Washington Post, Jaret Seiberg, an analyst with Cowen and Co.’s Washington Research Group, said that the Treasury Department report “[p]rovides some needed political cover for the few Senate Republicans who have been reluctant to vote in favor of the banks.” See Renae Merle, “Treasury Department sides with Wall Street, against federal consumer watchdog agency on arbitration rule,” Washington Post (Oct. 23)(available at http://wapo.st/2zxMABI).

It wasn’t the first Washington institution to fire back at one of its own on arbitration.  Earlier this month, the CFPB report and rule had been the subject of a heated argument between Keith A. Noreika, the acting U.S. Comptroller of the Currency, and Richard Cordray, the CFPB’s director.

Noreika slammed the CFPB’s action in an article on the Beltway website The Hill.  See “Senate should vacate the harmful consumer banking arbitration rule,” The Hill (Oct. 13)(available at http://bit.ly/2izENzT).

According to Noreika, the CFPB failed to support its case and “failed to disclose the costs to consumers that will likely result from the rule’s implementation.”

Soon after Noreika’s post, Cordray responded, stating that Noreika’s claims were “bogus” and “out of the blue.” See “The truth about the arbitration rule is it protects American consumers,” The Hill (Oct. 16)(available at http://bit.ly/2gIHbk2).

Added Cordray, “Why should Wells Fargo be able to block groups of customers from suing over fake accounts? Why should Equifax be able to force people to surrender their legal rights when the company put their personal information at risk?”

For more on yesterday’s vote, see Jessica Silver-Greenberg, “Consumer Bureau Loses Fight to Allow More Class-Action Suits,” N.Y. Times (Oct. 24)(available at http://nyti.ms/2yL9eHn).

* * *

Gurevich is a CPR Institute 2017 Fall Intern. Bleemer edits Alternatives for the CPR Institute.

A DOA Exception? California’s Law Revision Commission Looks to Reassess Mediation Confidentiality as Commenters Blast its Legislative Recommendation

By Russ Bleemer

The prospects for a new California mediation confidentiality law that would provide an exception allowing parties to introduce evidence in a post-ADR malpractice case faded this week in the face of a frank report by the state commission that proposed the change.

“The opposition to the [California Law Revision] Commission’s tentative recommendation can only be described as overwhelming,” concludes Barbara Gaal, chief deputy counsel to the California Law Revision Commission, in a 36-page report released Wednesday.  She adds, “It is not unanimous, but it is deep and widespread. California’s mediation confidentiality statute may differ from those in other jurisdictions, providing greater protection in some respects, but a broad range of stakeholder organizations and many individuals appear to be well-satisfied with that approach and offer many reasons for their position.”

The new Sept. 27 report provides 155 pages of comments on a proposal to amend the state’s evidence that the commission has studied since 2012.  (The commission’s analysis is at http://bit.ly/2xQBnON; the comments are collected at http://bit.ly/2x2Dx9Y.) The amendment would add a new Section 1120.5 to the California Evidence Code, titled “Alleged misconduct of lawyer when representing client in mediation context.”

Because of an absolutist approach by the state’s courts, concerns have been raised for years over malpractice cases.  The state courts have barred the introduction of materials made in preparation for and used at mediation sessions in most cases.

The approach has provided a boost to California’s strong mediation culture, but has left victims of attorney malpractice with tough—some say insurmountable–paths to proving their claims.

The many comments submitted on the tentative recommendation “include scattered words of praise or appreciation for the Commission, its staff, its process, and its work on this study,” Gaal writes, but “[i]n general, however, they do not have much positive to say about the Commission’s proposal.”

Gaal urges the members of the commission to go back to the drawing board—not necessarily re-do the commission’s work (“Relationship Between Mediation Confidentiality and Attorney Malpractice and Other Misconduct – Study K-402,” available at http://www.clrc.ca.gov/K402.html), but re-examine the reasons the study was undertaken, and whether the commission wants to proceed with a recommendation to the legislature.

She writes that the staff urges the commission members to “re-read” the tentative recommendation’s “key policy considerations at stake” in the study in assessing the criticisms.  (Direct access to the tentative recommendation is at http://bit.ly/2x2ePqr .)

The 15-page policy section emphasizes that protecting mediation confidentiality “rests on four key premises”: confidentiality promotes candor in mediation; candid discussions lead to successful mediation; successful mediation encourages future use of mediation to resolve disputes; and mediation use in resolving disputes is beneficial to society.

“The preparation of a Commission recommendation is not a popularity contest, but rather a quest to develop an analytically sound proposal that will serve the citizens of California well,” Gaal advices. “Nonetheless, the degree of opposition to the Commission’s proposal suggests that careful reexamination of the competing consideration is in order.”

If the commission elects to go forward with the tentative recommendation, Gaal notes that the commission’s staff will prepare a memo—presumably on the reasons for the proposal to be forwarded to the legislature—for the commission’s December meeting.

The commission’s efforts were examined extensively in Jeff Kichaven, A California Correction? Legislature Will Consider Allowing Attorney Malpractice Proof from Mediation,” 35 Alternatives 97 (July/August 2017)(available at http://bit.ly/2sNUOm1), and “How California Intends to Recalibrate the Concept of Mediation Confidentiality,” 35 Alternatives 93 (June 2017)(available with a subscription or after login at www.cpradr.org at http://bit.ly/2sWyqr1).

Kichaven’s July/August Alternatives cover article, in which the Los Angeles mediator strongly backed the proposal, which will allow evidence from mediations pertaining to attorney malpractice to be introduced in litigation, was submitted as a comment.

The article also a comparatively rare show of support in the face of the avalanche of the “decidedly negative” reaction.  Among the reasons commenters opposed the proposal, according to the commission report:

  • It will undermine confidentiality;
  • It could harm mediation participants who are not parties to an attorney-client dispute
  • It will overburden the courts;
  • The proposed mediation confidentiality exception’s benefits are minimal compared to the downsides;
  • The exception “provides insufficient protection for mediator communications and will cause mediators to quit and mediator malpractice insurance rates to rise”;
  • It will threaten the stability of mediated settlements;
  • It would create the need to warn participants about the new proposed exception, “and that will create problems”;
  • It will hurt vulnerable groups;
  • It will affect attorneys disproportionately; and
  • It “is a trap for the unwary,” will yield unpredictable results, and unpredictable protection for mediation communications.”

“In light of the generally negative input on the tentative recommendation,” Chief Deputy Counsel Gaal writes, “the Commission should take a hard look at its options and consider how to proceed. While the Commission should not base its policy recommendations on political considerations, neither should it ignore practical reality. The goal of a Commission study is to achieve positive reform of the law. That requires the crafting of a balanced reform that has a realistic chance of enactment.” [Emphasis is in the original.]

The document lays out the Commission’s options: Proceed with the current proposal in the face of what likely will be strong legislative opposition; turn the tentative recommendation into an information report for the California Legislature without recommending or proposing legislation; limit the exception to the private attorney-client discussions in a mediation context, instead of allowing litigants to introduce communications from the proceedings itself, thereby shielding the mediator or its adversaries; develop an “informed consent approach” and circulate a revised tentative recommendation; or revisit all of the options raised in the study, including leaving the current law intact.

The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for the CPR Institute. CPR Institute Fall 2017 Intern Angela Cipolla contributed to research.

 

Growth of Cannabis Plants and Issues Fertilizes Legal and ADR Business

By Judge Steven I. Platt (Ret.)

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If you think lawyers who are creative, indeed entrepreneurial, should be encouraged to ply their trade, and that emerging industries are fertile ground to do so, then you should give a shout-out to the rapidly expanding business of manufacturing, packaging, selling and distribution of cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes.

More and more states, including Maryland, are legalizing cannabis for multiple purposes. These jurisdictions are providing forums for the creation, development of new, and in some cases, eclectic business relationships. These include consulting agreements, distribution deals, partnerships, licensing relationships and even the co-authoring of “How-to Manuals.”

Like all other business dealings and organizations created for the purpose of developing new and different products for profit, the potential for disputes to arise between partners, competitors, and parties working together, one day and competing against each other the next, is present.

Due to the nature of the cannabis industry and its multiple levels and conflicting state and federal regulatory schemes, many individuals and businesses are choosing to use ADR instead of litigating when troubles or disputes arise. This is for a variety of reasons.

For one, there is a perception, or at least a concern, among the individuals and business organizations that are invested in this emerging industry as well as many of the lawyers and law firms who may represent them that judges and juries who don’t “like” them or “don’t like” what they do for historical and/or cultural reasons may “punish” them, i.e. not give them a fair hearing in their case. This perception can be effectively addressed by private mediation and/or arbitration by one or more Neutrals agreed upon by the parties and who hopefully have some knowledge of the industry.

This perception leads cannabis industry entrepreneurs to insert into their contracts, mandatory mediation and arbitration classes designed to avoid these negative possibilities.

Mediation, by its inherent nature, as well as, in certain situations, by statute, rule, or contract includes a confidentiality component. Confidentiality, as the state of Delaware found out the hard way, is prohibited in public dispute resolution forums, i.e. The Courts. Private Arbitration on the other hand, can be confidential if agreed upon and mandated accordingly by contract or by ADR provider rules.

Confidentiality is very important if the activity, or even part of the activity which is the subject of the dispute remains illegal under federal law even if it is legal in many states. This is the case with most of the activities associated with the cannabis industry. Evidence of this includes the refusal of most banks and other traditional financial institutions to finance the development of the industry and the companies which are forming within it. This reality is further evidenced by the refusal of colleges and universities to offer training for those who work in the medical marijuana industry. It is noteworthy that the most recent example of this trend was our own University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, acting on the advice of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office cancelling plans to offer training for those who work in the medical marijuana industry.

This development has necessitated medical marijuana industry entrepreneurs and workers to search elsewhere for education and training on everything from how to set up their business, to how to grow, store, transport, market and sell. Their product as well as bookkeeping of their business while staying within the law, i.e., not running afoul of conflicting federal and state regulations of their businesses. They have found, by process of elimination, that the only sources for that education and training are other individuals and companies located in states which legalized medical, and in some cases, recreational marijuana use in previous years. These individuals and companies alone have the education, background, and most importantly the experience to provide the education and training needed to establish and develop potentially profitable medical marijuana enterprises here.

The result has been that these new entrepreneurs and their businesses are negotiating and entering into consulting contracts with experienced individuals and companies in the medical marijuana industry in other states in order to obtain information and training. These contracts are not easily crafted and understood even by lawyers familiar with the industry.

The relationships created by the contracts between the consulting companies and those who avail themselves of their services to provide start-up training are often fraught with the risk of the disclosure of trade secrets, as well as the violation of covenants not to compete, etc. In turn, the contracts often have provisions drafted to minimize, if not eliminate, those risks.

They are not always successful which in turn creates conflicts which if not resolved quickly and efficiently can kill an emerging medical marijuana business before it gets started. The result has been mediation and arbitrations generated by the dispute resolution provisions in these consulting contracts.

I have been involved as both a Mediator and an Arbitrator in a number of these cases involving lawyers and parties from across the country. Intermingled with these is litigation usually filed in multiple federal courts in an attempt to either consolidate in a geographically convenient or perceived philosophically friendly forum the cases involving identical parties or 3rd parties spun off for tactical reasons from other parties. No end to this time-consuming and expensive as well as in many cases overlapping litigation, arbitrating and mediations is in sight.

Indeed, my favorite case and experience so far is the case in which the parties and counsel sought dismissal or transfer of a case in which I was the Chair of a 3-Arbitrator Panel. They first sought that relief from the U.S. District Court in D.C. which not only declined to dismiss or transfer our arbitration case, but instead ordered the parties to proceed before my panel in Maryland or D.C. The losing party then came to our panel requesting the same relief. When we realized that they were asking the panel to, in effect, reverse the U.S. District Court’s decision, my only comment on behalf of The Panel which accompanied our negative decision was—“I’d ask you what you are smoking-but we already know.”

This post is reprinted with permission from “A Pursuit of Justice,” a blog by Judge Steven I. Platt (Ret.) that focuses on the intersection of law, economics, politics and the development of public policy.  Judge Platt currently owns and operates his own private Alternative Dispute Resolution Company, The Platt Group, Inc. through which several retired judges and experienced practitioners offer mediation, arbitration and neutral case evaluation services to business, governmental agencies and their lawyers mostly in complex litigation and disputes.  Judge Platt’s experience and vocation make him an expert in conflict resolution particularly in complex disputes whether they are political, economic, legal, or as most often the case all of the above. Judge Platt can be reached at info@apursuitofjustice.com or via his website at www.theplattgroup.com.

CPR’s World ADR Tour Continues

Those who enjoyed “ADR Around the World,” summarizing the current state of ADR in Colombia, MexicoTaiwan, and Turkey can continue exploring international arbitration and mediation through “Worldly Perspectives,” a series from Alternatives which ran from 2009 to 2014.

“Worldly Perspectives,” by Giuseppe De Palo and Mary Trevor, provided individual assessments of ADR in countries worldwide, such as Finland. The March 2012 issue of Alternatives noted the longstanding Finnish tradition of mediation use in labor disputes, but that the process is still emerging for commercial disputes. In 2011, the Finnish Parliament implemented the European Directive on certain aspects of mediation in civil and commercial matters (Directive 2008/52/EC), which is covered in “Update: Nations Are Sharing their Progress on Installing the Cross-Border Mediation Directive” from the December 2011 issue of Alternatives, but mediation retains uniquely Finnish aspects, such as the public nature of court documents in Finland, which can include mediation documents.

The April 2010 “Worldly Perspectives” noted the impact of economic trends on arbitration’s popularity in Jordan, while the Maltese Malta Mediation Center was discussed in Alternatives March 2013. Other countries covered throughout the series have included Morocco, Lithuania, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Hungary, among others.

A number of columns in 2013 were focused on a controversial mandatory mediation requirement in Italy, which was implemented, declared unconstitutional, and then reinstated between 2010 and 2013. The October 2013 issue of Alternatives recapped the latest development, which concluded that the process was far from over.

The full text of these articles and further columns of “Worldly Perspectives” are available to CPR members through our website. In terms of future travels, the next update on the state of mediation in Italy, including the status of the mandatory mediation requirement, is forthcoming and will be featured here on CPR Speaks.

ADR Around the World: Turkey

This article is the fourth in a four-part CPR summer series that examines ADR in a number of rapidly changing locales around the world. If you missed it, you can find the first post, about Colombia, here, the second about Mexico here, and the third about Taiwan, here.

Turkey: Political Conflict Makes ADR an Essential Tool

By Boaz Cohon and Ngutjiua Hijarunguru, CPR Student Interns

On June 3rd, 2015 the World Justice Project released an updated version of their Rule of Law Index.  In this iteration, the Rule of Law Index dropped Turkey from 59th to 80th out of the 102 countries surveyed.  This fall no doubt was impacted by recent developments involving interference by Turkey’s executive branch in the judiciary.

The Turkish economy has, to a lesser extent, also struggled.  Notwithstanding that Turkey attracted over $12.5 billion dollars of Foreign Direct investment (FDI) in 2014, its gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate was just 2.9% for that year, down from 9.2% in 2010.

Currently litigation that relies on Turkey’s judicial system is the primary mode of commercial dispute resolution in Turkey, but complex commercial litigation can take over six years to complete.  The primacy of litigation is due in part to technological innovations such as electronic proceedings and increased courthouse construction that have enhanced the effectiveness of the Turkish court system, but is mostly due to the fact that Turkish businessmen are still quite reluctant to initiate arbitral proceedings at distant venues that utilize unfamiliar rules and procedures.

That being said, the legal framework exists in Turkey for both foreign and domestic companies looking to avoid a legal system mired in political conflict by using impartial, independent forms of ADR to resolve commercial disputes.  The primary law governing international arbitral proceedings that could be used by multinational enterprises (MNEs) is the Turkish International Arbitration Law (IAL), which is based on the UNCITRAL Model Law and the Swiss Federal Statute on Private International Law  Domestic disputes are regulated under the Turkish Civil Procedure Law, which also draws heavily from the UNCITRAL Model Law.

In 2012 Turkey added a modern mediation law—the Law on Mediation for Civil Disputes—to its legal code.  This law, which was opposed by the Istanbul Bar Association, took to heart the most cherished principles of mediation, such as insuring equal treatment of both parties by the mediator, confidentiality, and a duty to inform parties about the process of mediation.  Although most disputes resolved thus far have been employment related, commercial disputes can certainly use mediation as a dispute resolution strategy as well.

Organizations like the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce and the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) generally administer arbitrations, and a newly established institution, the Istanbul Arbitration Centre, was founded by the government effective January 1, 2015, to facilitate the settlement of domestic and international disputes through arbitration.

In sum, ADR processes in Turkey are slowly advancing toward becoming common practice, making Turkey both a potentially promising ADR marketplace and an ADR destination to watch.  It may well be that government interventions in the judicial system will push the business community in Turkey towards more thoroughly utilizing ADR options at their disposal.

The CPR Institute would like to thank Boaz Cohon and Ngutjiua Hijarunguru for this contribution. Boaz, a summer public policy/legal intern at CPR, is majoring in Political Science and History at Vanderbilt. Ngutjiua is a LLM graduate from the Center of the Study of Dispute Resolution at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Arbitration Fairness Act of 2015 (AFA): An Overly Simplistic Approach?

The Arbitration Fairness Act of 2015 (AFA), recently introduced by Senator Al Franken and Representative Hank Johnson, would amend the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq. (FAA), to eliminate mandatory, pre-dispute arbitration clauses in employment, antitrust or civil rights matters—as well as all nearly all consumer contracts, for such things as cars, credit cards and cell phones. Allowing parties to agree to arbitration only after a dispute has arisen, the AFA would apply to “any dispute or claim that arises on or after” the date of AFA’s passing. The legislation would also give federal courts—instead of arbitrators—the authority to rule on an agreement’s validity and enforceability.

This is not the first legislative effort to narrow the use of pre-dispute arbitration agreements; somewhat similar bills were introduced in 2011 and then again in 2013, but neither made it out of committee. While some are applauding this step towards banning what they refer to as “forced” arbitration, others have expressed concerns that requiring parties to agree to arbitration only after a dispute has already arisen might take away the parties’ critical ability to utilize arbitration preventatively, planning for it in order to avoid disputes in the first place. Others question the wisdom of transferring these responsibilities away from arbitrators and to an already beleaguered court system. Finally, while the AFA does not expressly prohibit businesses from entering into pre-dispute arbitration agreements with other businesses, some question the effect this might have on the enforceability of arbitration in business contexts where there is potential consumer application.

Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR) President & CEO Noah Hanft observed that, “Just as with litigation, there are circumstances where arbitration may be abused. But, if practiced properly and thoughtfully, as it should be, arbitration remains a  more effective, efficient and less costly way to resolve certain disputes—a result from which consumers can clearly benefit as well.”

Hanft concluded, “Care must be taken that any legislation aimed at protecting abuses in the use of arbitration not be overly simplistic or condemn a practice that has brought real benefits in a multitude of circumstances around the world. Even advocates of tort reform that decry litigation abuses don’t propose sweeping bans on certain types of litigation.”