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1929 - Swift justice: Thomas Vernon sentenced to life in prison for Saugus train derailment & robbery 1 month earlier [story]


Commentary by Carl Kanowsky, Esq.
| Friday, Jan 10, 2014
Carl Kanowsky, Esq.

Carl Kanowsky, Esq.

Over the past few years, there has been a big push by employers to have employees sign agreements stating that any dispute between them would go to an arbitrator rather than a judge and a jury.

Presumably, the logic behind the strategy is to avoid runaway jury verdicts. Some employers reason that going to a private arbitrator will 1) keep things private; 2) enhance the employer’s chance of winning (the idea being the arbitrator will be less emotional and more likely to follow the evidence rather than the employee’s “sob story”); 3) minimize the potential dollar loss; and 4) give the employer an automatic edge.

The “edge” is based on the fact that the arbitrator is, first and foremost, running a business.

The arbitrator wants to see return customers, which in this case is an employer. Therefore the arbitrator, as the argument goes, would be more likely to return an award favorable to the employer to generate repeat business.

California courts have issued opinions that have challenged this reasoning, making it more difficult for employers to enforce arbitration agreements.

Also, employers sometimes forget that forcing arbitration is not always a good thing.

For instance, the California Supreme Court ruled in Armendariz v. Foundation Health that if the employer insists on arbitration in a fight with a former employee who is claiming some type of discrimination, then the employer must pay all the expenses of the arbitration above about $500.

How expensive can arbitration be, you ask? Well, the National Arbitration Forum charges $2,000 to start, plus the arbitrator’s hourly fees.

Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services requires a retainer fee of nearly $5,500, plus the arbitrator’s hourly fees. Arbitrators’ hourly rates start at $400 and go up from there. The result is, arbitrations can cost employers from $20,000 to more than $100,000 in arbitration fees alone — not counting what the employer pays its attorneys.

Then, even if the employer, knowing the extra expense of arbitration, decides to require arbitration anyway, there is no guarantee the courts will allow the arbitration process to take place.

Recently, an appellate court in Trivedi v. Curexo slammed the door in one employer’s face. In that case, Trivedi, who had been Curexo’s CEO, got fired. He sued Curexo for age, race, color and national-origin discrimination.

Curexo tried to get the lawsuit sent to arbitration. Trivedi resisted that effort, telling the court that the arbitration clause in his employment contract was “unconscionable.”

Both the trial court and an appellate court agreed, saying the case had to be tried before a jury rather than handled in arbitration. Thus, Curexo spent thousands of dollars preparing the employment contract, and then thousands more trying to enforce it, only to wind up back in court. The entire battle between itself and Trivedi was fully laid out in a court decision open to the public.

Finally, assume the employer successfully forces the case to be heard in arbitration and not a court. It faces the prospect that if the arbitrator ignores the law and decides against the employer, the employer cannot appeal the decision.

There are only very limited bases to challenge an arbitrator’s award – fraud, misconduct, failure to disclose a disqualifying relationship, and exceeding powers. As you can see, the list does not include that the arbitrator got the law or the facts wrong.

So, going into arbitration can be a real roll of the dice. An employer should consider carefully before insisting that its employees forgo court and go to arbitration.

 

Carl Kanowsky of Kanowsky & Associates is an attorney in the Santa Clarita Valley. He may be reached by email at cjk@kanowskylaw.com. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.

 

 

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