If an employee and an employer “agree” to submit disputes that arise in the workplace to a non-judge arbitrator and agree that they will be bound by the arbitrator’s rules and decision, the employee will be forced to use this process and will be shut out of court, even though the employee would otherwise have the right to sue the employer in court. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates that 55% of all U.S. workers are now covered by forced arbitration agreements. This means a majority of all workers have lost their right to a day in court, and instead must resolve disputes in a non-public setting where the employer picks the arbitrator and writes the rules.
Many workers are unaware when they sign an employment contract (or sometimes, even a job application!) that they are agreeing to arbitrate any disputes that arise with their employer. They may not see the fine print that requires them to pay arbitration fees, or to fly to a jurisdiction across the country, or that prohibits class and collective actions by workers. These factors add up to a deck that is heavily stacked against workers. Once workers realize this, EPI estimates that only 2% of workers choose to pursue their claims. Making matters worse, low-wage, women and minority workers are more likely to be subject to forced arbitration than their counterparts.
In response to this disturbing trend, NWJP is launching a new legal clinic focused on forced arbitration in employment contracts. The clinic will address the denial of public justice in cases where forced arbitration requires employees to resolve disputes in this unfair forum. The clinic will:
- Answer workers’ questions about forced arbitration agreements;
- Offer free legal representation to challenge forced arbitration or in arbitration proceedings to selected workers with employment law claims; and
- Collect workers’ stories to illustrate the perils of forced arbitration and the dangerous effect it has on workers’ rights and communities as a whole.
NWJP is pleased to welcome attorney Todd Albert to coordinate the clinic. Todd practiced law for over a decade as a public defender at the Legal Aid Society in New York City. He joins NWJP after spending time in government service, including advising on the fair and effective administration of the court system at the Oregon Judicial Department, and representing state employees in litigation at the Oregon Department of Justice. Todd is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School and has a BA in Anthropology from Boston University. He is a member of the Oregon and New York Bars.
If you have questions about an agreement you have signed, or have experienced being bound to arbitrate a violation of your rights in the workplace, please reach out to Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503.525.8454. We are also looking for volunteer attorneys and law students to assist in this important project.