New Push Coming for Familiar Arbitration Bills?

By Vincent Sauvet

Democrats in Congress late last month announced their intention to focus their efforts on passing new legislation to ban mandatory arbitration in several types of disputes. A package of bills, some still awaiting introduction, would target the arbitration of employment, consumer, antitrust and civil rights disputes.

The bills are mostly updates of long-running efforts, some dating back to the 1990s, that seek to limit processes that interfere with consumers’ and workers’ abilities to file suits against product and service providers, and employers—especially those that targeted class actions.

Now, at least some of the bills appear to be gaining more publicity and increasing support in the wake of controversy over mandatory processes.

This legislative effort will be spearheaded by the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal, which its sponsors are referring to as the FAIR Act of 2019. It was announced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D., Conn., and Rep. Hank Johnson, D., Ga., both longtime opponents of mandatory arbitration, with the bill’s introduction on Feb. 28.

H.R.1423 and S.610 would “amend title 9 of the United States Code with respect to arbitration.” The flagship of the current crop of proposals targeting arbitration, the bill is co-sponsored by 32 Senate Democrats along with independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.  The number of House Democrats co-sponsoring the legislation has risen to 171 in the month since it was introduced, from 147.

The FAIR Act would ban arbitration in employment, consumer and antitrust disputes, as well as in civil rights disputes. The bill is a rebranding of the previous Congress’s Arbitration Fairness Act of 2018, also by Blumenthal and Johnson, covering the same issues.

In conjunction with the broad FAIR Act, several bills tackling more specific issues have also been announced.

The first is the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2019, sponsored by Rep. Cheri Bustos, D., Ill., a reintroduction of her bill from the previous session, which had been co-sponsored by Pramila Jayapal, D., Wash., and, on the Senate side, New York Democrat and presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand.  Jayapal is co-sponsoring the new bill, along with—significantly–a New York Republican, Elise Stefanik.

The bill would ban mandatory arbitration of sex discrimination disputes by banning any predispute arbitration agreement between an employer and employee arising out of conduct that would form the basis of a claim based on sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although this would be subject to some limitations, the prohibition would not apply to arbitration provisions contained in a contract between an employer and a labor organization, or between labor organizations.

Another bill, the Restoring Justice for Workers Act, would go even further than ending the arbitration of sexual harassment claims. It would establish an outright ban of mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts.

The bill was introduced in the previous 115th Congress, last October, by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D. N.Y., and Sen. Patty Murray, D., Wash., seeking to make illegal any predispute arbitration agreement when related to an employment dispute, which would include sexual harassment. It also would pose further restrictions on post-dispute arbitration agreements.

The proposal was an immediate Congressional reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 138 S. Ct. 1612 (May 21, 2018), which it would have overturned. But the bill had trouble getting bipartisan support, and likely will suffer the same issues in the current Congress, where it has not yet been introduced.

A bill announced and introduced with the FAIR Act included the Arbitration Fairness for Consumers Act, S.630, sponsored by Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, which would tackle the specific issue of mandatory arbitration in financial adviser and broker contracts.

While Brown has focused primarily on student loans and credit card agreements, the bill is in fact broader in scope.  It would prohibit any predispute arbitration agreement and joint-action waivers related to any consumer financial product or service dispute.

Another bill introduced with the FAIR Act, the Safety Over Arbitration Act would render void any predispute agreement compelling the arbitration of claims alleging facts relevant to a public health or safety hazard. The bill, S.620, was introduced by Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

As an interesting side note, the bill would also compel the arbitrator of such a claim to provide to the parties a written explanation of the factual and legal basis for his decision. While most arbitrators provide such explanation already, there is no legal requirement to do so.

Under the sponsorship of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D., Vt., the Restoring Statutory Rights and Interests of the State Act, S.635, was also reintroduced. The bill would prohibit any predispute arbitration agreement providing for the arbitration of claims brought by an individual or small business concern and arising from the alleged violation of a state or federal statutory or constitutional provision. The bill is nearly identical to its previous iterations, which were introduced but ultimately died in the 114th and 115th Congresses, and is most likely to suffer the same fate.

The Justice for Servicemembers Act also should be reintroduced soon by Reps. David Cicilline, D., R.I., and Connecticut’s Sen. Blumenthal. Like the versions in the previous three Congressional sessions, the bill aims to end the use of arbitration in cases under the Uniform Services Employment Rights Act.

Finally, the Fairness in Long-Term Care Arbitration Act was also announced by Rep. Linda Sanchez, D., Calif. While there is no text available yet, the bill would end the use of arbitration clauses in nursing home agreements.

These announced attempts at legislative change regarding arbitration use come up at a time when arbitration has suffered from bad press. The #MeToo movement made arbitration, which usually is conducted out of the public’s view, appear as a tool to silence victims. Although the broader controversy over mandatory arbitration in employment and labor disputes traditionally has been the legislative target of Democrats, the specific issue of sexual harassment moved the subject into broader view, drawing attention from a larger section of the political spectrum.

Still, the broader bills, such as the FAIR Act, the Restoring Justice for Workers Act and the Arbitration Fairness for Consumers Act are unlikely to gather enough support in order to pass in the current Congress. They will, for the most part, face the same Republican opposition that have defeated similar proposals.

But new, more-specific bills–those providing small incremental changes that exhibit more potential for bipartisan support–are more likely to succeed. Given the current political climate, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment stands a good chance of advancing. Several businesses such as Google, Microsoft, Uber and Lyft have effectively banned the arbitration of sexual harassment claims and sometimes other employment matters.

Though there are only three co-sponsors, the early appearance of a House Republican could indicate the bill’s broader appeal.

These moves, collectively, provide at least some momentum. “I’m encouraged that some of the leading companies are voluntarily changing their practices… but we can’t rely on everyone to do the right thing voluntarily” Sen. Blumenthal said.

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The author, an international LLM student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2019 CPR Institute spring intern.

Epic Systems vs. #MeToo: What Now?

By Anna M. Hershenberg & Sara Higgins

Panelists and audience members came together to discuss workplace dispute resolution in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Epic Systems v. Lewis decision, analyzing the impact of mandatory arbitration and class actions waivers in light of the #MeToo movement as it continues to raise awareness of the pervasive culture of sexual harassment in the workplace, and society generally.

More than 100 in-house employment counsel from Fortune 500 companies, corporate defense attorneys, counsel from the plaintiff’s bar, as well as noted academics and neutrals attended a CPR Institute mini-symposium last month on the intersection of the Supreme Court’s decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis, No. 16-285 (May 21)(available at https://bit.ly/2rWzAE8) and the #MeToo movement.

The two-panel program discussed anticipated responses from state and federal legislatures and the plaintiff’s bar, the pros and cons of mandatory arbitration for employment disputes and what makes an employment disputes program successful in light of new, competing priorities from the perspective of all stakeholders.

The event started with a CPR members-only meeting of CPR’s Employment Disputes Committee members.  The meeting featured an exclusive interview with Anil K. Chaddha, Lead Counsel of Labor, Employment and Benefits at General Motors, about his experience with employment ADR throughout his career.

The program was then opened up to the public where CPR Institute Chief Executive Officer and President Noah Hanft led off by noting that CPR is working to bridge the gap between the two sides of these types of contentious discussions, and provides an avenue for discourse and cooperation between plaintiff’s counsel and corporate defense to tackle common issues.  [Follow CPR Events at www.cpradr.org/events-classes/upcoming, on Facebook and on Twitter].

The first panel, titled “Was Epic Systems Really Epic: Responses to Epic and the Next Battlegrounds for Mandatory Arbitration,” was moderated by Washington, D.C. based neutral Mark Kantor, who is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a member of CPR’s Panel of Distinguished Neutrals.

Kantor broke down the Epic Systems case and discussed both its immediate impact and far-reaching implications with panelists Christopher C. Murray, a shareholder in the Indianapolis office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., who co-chairs the firm’s Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice Group, and Fran L. Rudich, a partner in Rye Brook, N.Y.’s Klafter Olsen & Lesser.

In Epic Systems, Kantor explained, the Supreme Court upheld the enforceability of class action waivers. He noted that, in writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch concluded:

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.

The panel largely agreed that, from the employer’s perspective, this holding decisively shifts the balance in favor of mandatory arbitration with class action waivers.

From the employees’ perspective, Rudich previewed the plaintiff’s bar’s anticipated response: plaintiffs’ attorneys will now make concerted efforts to bring multiple, individual cases against the same employer as a workaround to class action waivers.  Rudich warned, “be careful what you wish for,” because employers that seek to avoid class matters are going to get exactly that, numerous individual employment dispute arbitrations, potentially with repetitive evidentiary and discovery requests.

The panel also discussed the burgeoning federal and state laws taking aim at mandatory arbitration, including that more states are poised to adopt California-style private attorney general (“PAGA”) laws to supersede employment class actions.

After a brief intermission, a second panel, “Epic Systems v. #MeToo: What Now? Best Practices for Workplace Disputes Program Design,” which included Sarah E. Bouchard, a Philadelphia-based partner in Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; Lisa J. Banks, a named partner in Washington, D.C.’s Katz, Marshall & Banks LLP; Peter J. Cahill, Executive Director and Associate General Counsel at Ernst & Young LLP in New York; Diane Dann, Senior Vice President of Employment Law at Mastercard Inc. in Purchase, N.Y., and Kathleen McKenna, a partner at event host Proskauer, took the stage to focus on practical guidance for designing workplace disputes programs in the midst of the #MeToo movement.

The panelists discussed the legal, business and public relations implications for implementing employment disputes programs with mandatory arbitration in today’s climate.  They debated whether carving sexual harassment claims out of mandatory arbitration – like Microsoft, Uber and Lyft have done — is workable solution.

The employer-side and employee-side counsel agreed that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017’s conditioned use of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) in sexual harassment suits may make it harder to settle these types of claims.  Because the law attempts to disincentive the use of NDAs without regard to the wishes of the victim, it forces the parties to find work-arounds to the law where (as often happens) victims do not wish to have these disputes resolved publicly.  The panelists explained that most victims don’t want to be Gretchen Carlson — the journalist and advocate who brought a 2016 sexual harassment complaint against the chairman of Fox News – but instead want to move on with their lives without calling attention to the situation.

Panelists seemed to agree generally that incorporating opt-in or opt-out clauses into workplace dispute resolution programs might be a useful tool for assault victims who aren’t interested in publicly calling out their attackers.

Some tips for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace that the panel discussed included thoroughly vetting new hires’ pasts; evaluating the corporate culture from the top down; training bystanders who witness harassment to report it, and serving less alcohol – and more water — at business functions.

The panelists concluded that the #MeToo movement is broader than just sexual harassment – it has challenged how women are treated in the workplace and how they are compensated.

The program was followed by a networking cocktail reception.

 

Hershenberg is Vice President of Programs and Public Policy at the CPR Institute. Higgins is a CPR Institute Summer 2018 intern.

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.

Predispute Arbitration Would be Barred for Sex Harassment Claims Under Legislative Proposal

By Elena Gurevich

The Federal Arbitration Act is being targeted in Congress in a bill that seeks to ban predispute arbitration in matters involving sexual harassment.

Last month, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D., N.Y., along with 13 co-sponsors., introduced U.S. Senate bill S-2203, titled “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017.”

The act makes predispute arbitration agreements unenforceable for sex discrimination disputes.  It would put the responsibility for determining arbitrability on courts, not arbitrators.

The Dec. 6 proposal was immediately referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.  It was introduced in the House by Rep. Cheri Bustos, D. Ill., on Dec. 26, with seven co-sponsors, and sent to the Judiciary Committee.

The act would amend United States Code Title 9—the FAA—by adding a new Chapter 4 “Arbitration of Sex Discrimination Disputes” at the end.

In a proposed Section 401, the legislation would define “predispute arbitration agreement” as “any agreement to arbitrate a dispute that had not yet arisen at the time of the making of the agreement,” and “sex discrimination dispute” as “a dispute between an employer and employee arising out of conduct that would form the basis of a claim based on sex under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [citation omitted] if the employment were employment by an employer [as defined in the act], regardless of whether a violation of such title VII is alleged.”

Proposed Section 402, on validity and enforceability, states that “no predispute arbitration agreement shall be valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of a sex discrimination dispute.”

According to a blog by employment attorneys at the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, if the act is passed into law, it “would not make employment arbitration agreements altogether unenforceable.” Joe Liburt, Allison Riechert Giese and Akasha Perez, “The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act: A Legislative Response to #MeToo,” Orrick Employment Law and Litigation blog (Dec. 14) (available at http://bit.ly/2rmpHSx).

The blog post notes that the proposal “would require employers and employees to litigate sexual harassment claims, while leaving unaffected all other arbitration-eligible claims.  This could potentially require employees who bring both harassment and non-harassment legal claims to litigate some claims in court while simultaneously submitting other claims to arbitrators.”

The proposed law, however, does not prohibit workers and employers from agreeing to arbitration after a dispute arises.

The Orrick blog notes that the legislative proposal “has a long journey” before it is signed into law, explaining that “the bill must be assigned to a committee for consideration, withstand debate” and “pass a vote.” The blog post predicts that it “could take months or even years to complete, if ever.”

A USA Today article notes that Congress also “is wrestling with incidents of sexual harassment,” referring to a resolution passed by the Senate that requires sexual harassment training for senators and staff.

The article discusses a bipartisan bill that was introduced in November that would “overhaul the congressional complaint process and provide better protections for accusers.” The article also notes that “other lawmakers are looking to reform the secret process lawmakers have used to settle numerous workplace harassment and discrimination claims.” See Jessica Guynn, “‘Enough is enough’: Gretchen Carlson says bill ending arbitration would break silence in sexual harassment cases,” USA Today (Dec. 6)(available at https://usat.ly/2ynUM6y).

Some companies already have taken action in the light of the proposed legislation. Last month, Microsoft became the first Fortune 100 company to support the bill. Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith, stated that the company should “act immediately and not wait for a new law to be passed.” Brad Smith, “Microsoft endorses Senate bill to address sexual harassment,” Microsoft blog (Dec. 19)(available at http://bit.ly/2mR65jR).

The author is a CPR intern.