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Stuck in Arbitration

by Colin Rule
March 2012

Novo Justice Blog by Colin Rule

Colin Rule

AMALIA D. KESSLER, NYT, March 6, 2012

“YOU buy a cellphone, computer or car. You sign up for a credit card or open a retirement account. You apply for a job.

In all these circumstances, you’re told that you must agree to dozens of terms and conditions, set forth in technical verbiage and tiny print. Eager to complete your purchase — or desperate to be hired — you ultimately sign without reading.

If you’re lucky, nothing goes wrong. But a growing number of consumers and job seekers discover, when something does go wrong, that they have unknowingly agreed to waive their right to file a lawsuit. Instead, they must submit to arbitration.

For some, arbitration proves too costly to pursue. Among those who can afford the fees, many learn they cannot enforce their legal rights because arbitration decisions do not need to be based on the law; arbitrators have their own procedures, and some studies have found that they are systematically biased in favor of the companies that hire them. Lawyers are often unwilling to represent arbitration complainants because of award caps in the agreements. And increasingly, these accords bar class-wide arbitrations. Because arbitration decisions are typically not disclosed and not subject to appeal, consumers and workers are left without recourse and must bear the cost of unfair, deceptive and harmful practices.

One 2008 study in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform examined employment and consumer contracts used by 21 major corporations and found mandatory arbitration clauses in 93 percent of the employment contracts and 77 percent of the consumer contracts. But Congress has repeatedly failed to step in and fix this system. The proposed Arbitration Fairness Act of 2011 would be a step in the right direction. The legislation would make predispute agreements to arbitrate consumer and employment disputes unenforceable. Similar bills, introduced in 2007 and 2009, both died in committee.

It wasn’t always this way…”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/07/opinion/stuck-in-arbitration.html?_r=1&hp

Biography


Colin Rule has worked at the intersection of technology and conflict resolution for the last two decades. He is CEO of Modria.com, an online dispute resolution service provider in Silicon Valley, and a non-resident Fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. From 2003 to 2011, he served as eBay and PayPal's first director of Online Dispute Resolution, designing and implementing systems that now resolve more than 60 million disputes each year. Mr. Rule is the author of Online Dispute Resolution for Business, published by Jossey-Bass in September 2002. He has presented and trained around the world for organizations including the U.S. Department of State, UNCITRAL, the International Chamber of Commerce, and the CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution, as well as teaching at UMass-Amherst, Stanford, Southern Methodist University, and Hastings College of the Law. He has written and been interviewed extensively about the Internet since 1999, with columns and articles appearing in ACResolution, Consensus, Dispute Resolution Magazine, and Peace Review. He holds a master's degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in conflict resolution and technology, a B.A. in peace studies from Haverford College, and he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Eritrea from 1995-1997.



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Website: www.modria.com

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