In a previous entry I addressed the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent ruling making arbitration awards virtually impossible to appeal in Citigroup Global Markets Inc. v. Bacon.
A few weeks later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an arbitration agreement that required employees who were parties to a collective bargaining agreement to arbitrate their age discrimination claims. Michael Moore’s discussion of the opinion in the Pennsylvania Labor and Employment Blog is worth a look on this decision.
So, it’s a no brainer, arbitration is the way to go for all employment claims, right? Not so fast. Jon Hyman of the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog offers a dissent. Jon cites the escalating costs associated with arbitration as a reason to reconsider the process:
In my experience, however, arbitration can prove just as costly as court. More and more arbitrators are allowing plaintiffs to engage in discovery that is nearly as expansive (and expensive) as what is permitted by trial courts. Additionally, employers have to add into the equation the cost to file the claim, which the employer usually shares. With the American Arbitration Association, these fees can run anywhere from $950 to a cap of $65,000. These fees do not include the arbitrators’ time, which often exceeds $500 per hour, and includes all pre-hearing conferences, discovery and motion practice, the actual hearing time, and the drafting of the opinion. It is not hard to see how in many cases the defense costs associated with arbitration outweigh defense costs in a traditional court proceeding.
He goes on to suggest considering using jury trial waivers in employment agreements. Though waivers won’t keep pre-trial and discovery costs down, they will make trial cheaper and avoid a runaway jury. Having a judge as the finder-of-fact usually makes things more predictable. Of course, make sure the jury trial waiver is enforceable in the jurisdiction where it is going to be used.
I recently spoke with an employment arbitrator who told me he gives the parties wide latitude on the amount of discovery in arbitrations as long at there is agreement. His ultimate concern is not so much the amount of discovery, but the length of the case. He aims to resolve all cases within 6 – 9 months. The less time lawyers have to work on the case, the less fees incurred.
As an aside, the Texas Legislature is considering legislation to limit arbitration in certain consumer transactions.