Washington Law Review

Article

“Underdog” Arbitration: A Plan for Transparency

December 21, 2015 | 90 Wash. L. Rev. 1727

Abstract: The use of mandatory, pre-dispute arbitration clauses in consumer, employment, health-care, and even nursing home agreements is ever-increasing, even though the general public has distrust and a lack of understanding of the nature of arbitration. The Supreme Court in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, and then in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, has signaled firmly that mandatory pre-dispute arbitration is here to stay. This is true even for individual low-value claims in which one party, say the consumer or employee, has little or no bargaining power. I call these claims “underdog claims.” There have been numerous proposals to amend the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) to exclude such claims from mandatory pre-dispute arbitration agreements and numerous criticisms raised in reaction to the Court’s jurisprudence. But with the Supreme Court’s theoretical view that arbitrating underdog claims is fair, these criticisms have gone unheeded by the majority of the Court. Now the question is how should we approach this new field of dispute resolution in which so many claims will be resolved? This Article analyzes the meritorious criticisms of underdog arbitration, which include bias, the repeat-player effect, the removal of publicity, the lack of judicial oversight, and a general concern about the lack of transparency. Then I propose a three-part solution for promoting transparency to establish a system in which underdog arbitration can work. I propose that the FAA be amended to require transparency in consumer and employee claims through: (1) uniform data reporting at the arbitration service-provider level; (2) requiring a written statement of decision in such disputes; and (3) data-reporting requirements by the business entity imposing mandatory pre-dispute arbitration on the employee/consumer stake-holder.

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