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Arbitration Bullies

Today's National Law Journal features an opinion piece by Washington D.C., attorney John Vail that backs the Arbitration Fairness Act.

The article, now available at the NLJ's website, and appearing on Page 22 of the Aug. 4 edition, is part of the flurry of attempts at opinion influencing by both arbitration reformers and defenders of current processes in the wake of Congress's consideration of the act

Vail's volley is tough stuff.  "Corporate bullies limit their liability and assure that their dirty linen stays out of public courtrooms, hidden in their world of privatized 'justice,'" writes Vail, senior counsel at the Center for Constitutional Litigation, a national law firm that advocates for the right to jury trials.  "They use mandatory arbitration to hide all manner of financial chicanery, and all manner of abuse of workers. Including rape."

Vail is attorney for Jamie Leigh Jones, a former Halliburton/KBR employee who has charged she was drugged, abducted and gang raped by her fellow employees shortly after she arrived to work in Iraq.  Jones testified before Congress about her ordeal, and has advocated against mandatory arbitration. 

A Houston federal judge sent her case to a jury in May, declining to enforce an arbitration clause covering Jones' employment.

Vail writes that the "public interest in one company supplying white widgets when red widgets were desired is hardly overwhelming.  But the public interest in whether employers pay minimum watge, or discriminate on the basis of race, or condone rape is a much different matter."

But, Vail points out, the act doesn't cover collective bargaining. 

"And," he writes, "the act does nothing to affect voluntary arbitration.  If you wind up in a dispute with a company, and both of you decide that arbitration is the best way to resolve it, more power to you."

He concludes:  "The act deals only with bullying."

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Also in the Aug. 4 National Law Journal is a piece by new American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution chairwoman Lela Love, who will take over later this week at the ABA's annual meeting in New York.  See "Problem solvers have never been more needed."

Love, a longtime ADR practitioner, theorist and author who is director of the Kukin Program for Conflict Resolution at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, notes that the section will develop a formal dispute resolution policy during the next year.  The policy will be a "statement of principles that will establish the section's positions on issues such as informed consent, access, education, compensation, qualifications, conflicts of interest, ethical standars, impartiality and fairness."

Love's article appears on Page S2, in a special supplement devoted to ABA Section reports.

And you need to know:  I'm a member of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution.

--Russ Bleemer, Editor, Alternatives