Saturday, February 7, 2015

Arbitration decisions: Are They in Compliance With The JUST CAUSE STANDARD - or is the Penalty Determined Under the JUST 'CAUSE Someone Dislikes You Standard?

If you are working in disciplinary hearings or 3020-a arbitration, or you want to appeal an arbitrator's decision, you should use JUST CAUSE in your argument.

Betsy Combier



Did You Know as a union member your employer can not discipline you or fire you without Just Cause?

The U.S. labor movement has secured a number of important rights for unionized workers. Among such rights, just cause provides important protections against arbitrary or unfair termination and other forms of inappropriate workplace discipline. Just cause has become a common standard in labor arbitration, and is included in labor union contracts as a form of job security. Typically, an employer must prove just cause before an arbitrator to sustain an employee's termination, suspension, or other discipline. Usually, the employer has the burden of proof in discharge cases or if the employee is in the wrong.
Employees are expected to meet performance standards and behave appropriately in the workplace. Disciplinary or corrective action taken by the employer is supposed to be a process of communicating with the employee to improve unacceptable behavior or performance. There is a set of guidelines, called the “Seven Tests of Just Cause” that employers are expected to follow when imposing discipline; that Unions need to assure have been applied to their members; and that arbitrators use as a basis to form their decisions.


For decades, professional arbitrators struggled to reach consistent decisions in discipline cases, because they recognized that inconsistent results produced chaos in both the arbitration process and the work place. Finally, noted arbitrator Carroll R. Daugherty decided to take the bull by the horns by combining the many concepts employed by arbitrators in discipline cases into a single theory which he called “a sort of ‘common law definition” of just cause. It set out specific guidelines to be applied to the facts of any one case which we now refer to as the seven tests of just cause.

The award by Arbitrator Daugherty which is generally recognized as the first decision to formally set out all of the seven tests of just cause was in the matter of Enterprise Wire Co. and Enterprise Independent Union and was issued March 28,1966 (46 LA 359).

You can read Daugherty’s full Arbitration Decision at This was a discharge case involving absenteeism and unsatisfactory work. Unfortunately, in this case, Arbitrator Daugherty ruled in favor of the employer; the union lost the case and the employee was fired. This historic case set the rules for Just Cause and is still being used today by employers, labor unions, and arbitrators.

Using the Seven Tests

Here are the "Seven Tests" as to whether the boss has used "just cause" in discipline and discharge cases.


* Our main contractual weapon in discipline and discharge cases is usually the requirement that the boss must have "just cause" (or "fair cause" or "proper cause") to take action against an employee. Even if these words are missing from the contract, many arbitrators use this standard, anyway.

* But, what is "just cause"? Simply put: it means the employer must have a reason (he or she must have "cause") for imposing discipline and the reason must be fair ("just").

* It is commonly accepted that there are seven tests as to whether the boss has used "just cause" in handing out discipline.

One of the main reasons workers join unions is to gain protection against unfair and unjust discipline that employers hand out. Stewards must be ready to handle all sorts of discipline cases, from warnings to suspensions to firings. Stewards must be ready to deal with situations of gross discrimination by the boss on who gets disciplined, to dealing with union members who sometimes seem to go out of their way to get themselves fired.

Our main contractual weapon is often times summed up in one short sentence, "Employees shall be disciplined or discharged only for just cause". In some contracts the words used are "proper cause" or "fair cause". The importance of a sentence like this is that it binds the employer to imposing discipline not just for any reason (cause) but the reason has to be a "just" reason. Many arbitrators have gone so far as to hold all employers to a "just cause" standard, whether the contract uses the words or not.

What is a "just cause" standard? It is commonly accepted that there are seven tests as to whether a boss has used "just cause" in handing out discipline. The Bureau of National Affairs lists them as follows:

1. NOTICE – Was the employee adequately warned of the consequences of his conduct?

Prior to imposition of discipline, employees must have notice of rules and expectations. The warning may be given orally or in printed form. An exception may be made for certain conduct, such as insubordination, coming to work drunk, drinking on the job, or stealing employer property, that is so serious that the employee is expected to know it will be punishable.

Example: If an employee is told to stop using vulgar language and told that if he continues he will be disciplined, that may be adequate warning. However if a boss comes up to an employee and says "I'm tired of your swearing, cut it out", and then the next day fires the employee for swearing again, that may not be adequate warning.

2. REASONABLE RULES OR ORDERS – Was the employer's rule or order reasonably related to efficient and safe operations?

Was the employer’s rule reasonably related to (a) the orderly, efficient, and safe operation of the employer’s business, and (b) the performance that the employer should properly expect of the employee?

Example: A boss makes a rule that all employees must wear red tee shirts and they must be tucked in so they don't get caught in machinery. An employee is fired for wearing a blue tee shirt that was tucked in. Making a rule that tee shirts must be tucked in so they won't get caught in machinery may be reasonable and related to safety, but demanding the tee shirt be red isn't related to safety or efficiency.

3. INVESTIGATION – Did management investigate before administering the discipline?

Did the employer, before administering the discipline to an employee, make an effort to discover whether the employee did in fact violate or disobey a rule of management? The investigation normally should be made before the decision to discipline is made. Where immediate action is required, however, the best course is to suspend the employee pending investigation with the understanding that he will be restored to his job and paid for time lost if he is found not guilty.

Example: The boss fires a worker for stealing and then demands evidence from the union that the worker isn't guilty. At the grievance meeting the boss admits he never investigated the incident, just took another employee's word. This probably wouldn't hold up. If the union has facts to prove the employee's innocence they should be presented to the boss, even though he failed to properly investigate the case.

4. FAIR INVESTIGATION - Was the investigation fair and objective?
Example: If an incident happened does the employer interview everyone present or only management people who were present. If the employer refuses to interview nonmanagement workers then the investigation may not be fair.

5. PROOF - Did the investigation produce substantial evidence or proof of guilt?

It is not required that the evidence be preponderant, conclusive, or "beyond reasonable doubt," except where the alleged misconduct is of such a criminal or reprehensible nature as to stigmatize the employee and seriously impair his chances for future employment.
Example: Here it is obvious that workers have fewer rights inside the workplace than they would have in civil court, but still the boss must have real evidence, not guesses. Again the boss cannot just try to make a worker prove his or her innocence, without presenting proof of guilt.

6. EQUAL TREATMENT - Were the rules, orders, and penalties applied evenhandedly and without discrimination?

If enforcement has been lax in the past, management cannot suddenly reverse its course and begin to crack down without first warning employees of its intent.

Example: This is the most common form of discrimination. An employer decides to suspend Mary for taking too long at lunch, but lets the employees who eat lunch with a supervisor take extra time every day. This would not hold up. However, if the employer tells everyone that starting on Monday employees will be disciplined for taking too long at lunch and on Tuesday Mary comes back late and everyone else has been on time, she may be disciplined.

7. PENALTY - Was the penalty reasonably related to the seriousness of the offense and the past record?

Was the degree of discipline administered by the employer in a particular case reasonably related to (a) the seriousness of the employee’s proven offense, and (b) the record of the employee in his or her service with the employer?

If employee A's past record is significantly better than that of employee B, the employer properly may give employee A lighter punishment than employee B for the same offense. The degree of discipline, is important because arbitrators want to ensure that the "punishment fits the crime." An employer's use of progressive discipline often gives the employer an advantage in arbitration.

Example: The classic example is two employees get in an argument and shove each other. One has 25 years service with a clean record. The other has 3 years service with lots of warnings and discipline. Based upon the workers seniority and records, the employer may give the older worker less punishment than the other worker.

Tips for Handling Discipline & Discharge Cases

Here are some basic tips for stewards handling discipline and discharge cases:

Use the "seven tests" as an outline. Did the employer meet the seven tests? Remember that just because an employer messes up on one of the seven tests, this doesn't mean we automatically win, but proving they screwed up helps a lot.
Make sure that an employee's Weingarten rights aren't or weren't violated during the employer's investigation.
Try to stop the employer from suspending or firing a worker. Try to get a cooling off period if necessary. The case becomes harder once a worker is out the door, now we not only have to fight about what happened but over back pay, etc.
Ask for all the employers’ notes and records they used to make a decision. Get any notes or records a foreman or supervisor might keep, even informal records. The union has a right to them. On the other hand the employer has no right to the notes or records that the union makes when investigating a case.
* Do a thorough investigation of the case. DON'T take the employers word on anything.
In a grievance meeting make the employer prove their case first. Make them present all the facts and don't assume anything. Don't let the boss start the meeting by saying to the union, “OK tell me why I shouldn't fire Joe". Make the boss justify firing Joe.
There are two parts to every discipline case. Did the employee violate a known rule and what should the punishment be? Sometimes we lose the first part but then we have to make sure the punishment fits the offense.
If the employer refuses to back down from a written warning and the case doesn't merit arbitration make sure the employer receives from the union a written statement disputing the facts and the discipline. Have this letter also put into the employees personnel file.

In closing, we should all be aware of the JUST CAUSE principles; and we all need to know what PROGRESSIVE DISCIPLINE looks like.

Within any workers career they will face at least one episode that could be discipline. Has your supervisor discussed a matter with you that he or she has asked you to change? It may sound like a friendly suggestion; and it might be. But it also is Step one of Progressive Discipline.

Monday, February 2, 2015

What Not To Do At Arbitration

By Phil Cutler
Cutler Nylander & Hayton PS
1191 Second Avenue
Seattle, WA  98101
Philip E. Cutler © 2011

 For over 20 years I have presided over or participated as a panelist in hundreds of arbitrations.  Those experiences have shown me the good, the bad and the ugly.  Quite frankly, there are many more seriously egregious mistakes I have seen lawyers make; it was difficult to pare this list down to 10.

 #10 – Play Games:  Engage in Cheap Games and Discovery Abuse; Continue Gamesmanship During the Hearing

Arbitration is no more a macho gladiator contest than litigation, though some lawyers (and their clients too, unfortunately) seem to believe that gamesmanship – hardball tactics, obfuscation and delay – is the way to win cases.  Though they are wrong, they nonetheless:

  • refuse to stipulate to anything
  • object to practically everything, especially any proposal made by opposing counsel
  • refuse to extend professional courtesies to opposing counsel
  • insist on unbridled discovery rather then thoughtfully analyzing their client’s and the opposing party’s legitimate discovery needs and putting together a discovery plan that largely meets everyone’s needs
  • schedule depositions unilaterally and/or refuse to adjust the schedule to accommodate witness’s or opposing counsel’s legitimate needs
  • lard responses to written discovery with lengthy and generally worthless (and usually unfounded) boilerplate objections
  • unreasonably delay providing documents or information
  • suddenly “discover” key exhibits during the hearing
  • reactively object to nearly all exhibits offered at the hearing by the other side
  • whether at depositions or the hearing, lodge objections to examination questionsthat are largely specious, generally for the sole purpose of interrupting the flow of the case
  • are coy about scheduling witnesses’ hearing testimony
  • refuse to cooperate in any respect
 These lawyers and clients seem to believe that the arbitrator is impressed by these tactics or awards points based on counsel’s cleverness in obfuscating matters, delaying resolution or raising the cost of the case.  They don’t.  Indeed, tactics such as these are seen for what they are:  simple gamesmanship.  Parties and their lawyers who engage in them lose credibility with the only one who counts:  the arbitrator.
Avoid games-playing like the plague.  Like litigation, arbitration is an adversarial process; that, however, does not mean that basic professionalism and civility are ignored in favor of chest-thumping and uncooperativeness.  Counsel should pick her fights with care;  save arguments for those matters that are really important; try and resolve all other matters cooperatively.
Remember that discovery in arbitration is substantially less broad than it is in litigation; tailor your discovery, and suggest a mutual discovery plan, that legitimately addresses the needs of the parties and the case; the arbitrator is unlikely to be receptive to a party’s insistence on turning over every rock.[1]  Avoid bringing numerous discovery disputes to the arbitrator for resolution; arbitrators don’t like having to resolve such disputes any more than judges do.

#9 – Display Anger, Animosity and Rudeness:  Personalize Everything; Engage in Ad Hominem Attacks
You have seen it before, the lawyer who:
  • refers to the opposing lawyer or witness (or even the arbitrator!) disrespectfully
  • sneers, rolls his eyes or raises his eyebrows at arguments made by opposing counsel or a witness’s testimony
  • lards briefs or oral arguments with purple prose
  • encourages or allows her client to make sotto voce comments about testimony, exhibits or case developments
Avoid personal attacks.  Emotions can run high even in arbitration, but your clients have a dispute, which you have been hired to help them resolve – not to fan the flames.  You can be a zealous advocate without stooping to the level of a street-fighter.  Don’t characterize the opposing side’s arguments (or a witness’s testimony) as “patently ridiculous” (or use similar purple prose) in your briefs, examination or oral arguments.  Engaging in such conduct merely highlights for the arbitrator your (or your client’s) lack of professionalism, civility and faith in the merits of your client’s cause.  The arbitrator is looking for objectively supportable facts and legal authority to help her decide the case.  This sort of conduct detracts from the merits of your case and distracts the arbitrator from doing her job.

#8 – Overuse or Misuse Technology:  Use Fancy but Unnecessary Technological or Demonstrative Aids; Fail to Know how to use Them
 Technology is a wonderful teaching and learning tool.  But using power-points or electronic displays for everything is generally unhelpful and can be distracting.  Technology is especially unhelpful (and distracting) if it doesn’t work.  Moreover, unless you print out whatever you display electronically, the arbitrator won’t have a record of your “techie” presentation available to refer back to after the hearing.
In deciding what technology to use, and how, remember that the point of the hearing is to tell your side’s story to a particular audience:  the arbitrator.  Ask yourself if your proposed tech aid facilitates the telling of that story or gets in the way.  You will have presented exhibits in paper form (commonly in a tabbed ring-binder), which both the arbitrator and the witness will have available during the hearing.  Putting exhibits up on a screen (generally with ambient lighting making it difficult to read and follow along; extinguishing the lights makes note-taking difficult or impossible) is frequently unhelpful and often counter productive.  If there is a key phrase or section in an exhibit that you wish to highlight, have a large and readable blow-up made; it will be easier for the arbitrator and witness to read and assimilate.  Most arbitrators appreciate counsel highlighting (a yellow marker does the job nicely) key portions of exhibits in their binder.
The same holds true for squibs from deposition transcripts.  If you are using technology, be sure you practice beforehand so that your presentation is flawless.  If you are using a video squib (from a deposition, for instance), limit use to the really important parts and cue up any squibs so that the presentation is effective.  If you intend to use a power-point presentation during your closing argument, be sure to print off a copy and give it to the arbitrator (and opposing counsel, of course) before the argument.

#7 – Waste Opportunities to Persuade the Arbitrator:  Assume the Arbitrator Shares Your Knowledge of the Case; Fail to Analyze, Distill and Organize Your Case; File Long and Unpersuasive Briefs

By the time the hearing rolls around, you will have lived with your case – the facts and the law – for several months.  The arbitrator may be a quick study, but she doesn’t have the same knowledge base as you do.  Your task at the hearing is to bring the arbitrator along – don’t waste the opportunity to educate her.  Your hearing brief ought to highlight the critical facts that will be adduced at the hearing, put those facts into context so their importance is obvious, and apply the law to the facts.  Make sure the arbitrator knows who the main players (and witnesses) are, and why their testimony is important; cover the elements of your claim or defense.  If a timeline is important, consider preparing a chronology.
Briefs should be focused and as short as possible.  Even if the arbitrator doesn’t place a page-limit on briefs, use local federal or state brief limits as guidelines.  If your hearing brief is longer than 30 pages, try again.  Remember that a reply brief is designed to reply to an argument that your opponent has made in opposition (and which you may not have addressed to your satisfaction in your opening brief); don’t simply repeat all the arguments made in your opening brief.

#6 – Ask Inappropriate Questions; Fail to Pick up on an Opportunity to Deal   With Something the Arbitrator views as Important; Ignore a Witness’s Non-Responsive Answer:  Ask Questions That are not Really Questions or ask Overly Legalistic Questions of a Lay Witness; Rebuff Questions from the Arbitrator

Long, wandering “questions” are to be avoided, as are questions asking for a legal conclusion – from either a lay or expert witness.  Strive for short, crisp questions. Write your questions out ahead of time or practice them.  Be sure there is a question mark at the end.  The power of the witness’s answer depends on the clarity of the question it responds to; if the witness is confused, the arbitrator will likely be confused as well.
Ask questions of witnesses; don’t testify yourself.  The arbitrator is interested in the witness’s testimony, not yours.
Listen to the witness’s response: the arbitrator will hear what the witness says, not what you expect him to say.  If the witness fails to answer the question you asked, repeat it and ask for a response.  A motion to strike as non-responsive will highlight for the arbitrator that the witness may be evasive or not paying attention.
Welcome questions from the arbitrator; if she asks questions, assume that she really is interested in the answer.  Don’t put the arbitrator off by saying, “I’ll come back to that.”  In all likelihood you won’t.  Even if you do, you will have missed an opportunity to respond timely to something the arbitrator wanted more information about.

#5 – Assume the Evidentiary Rules in Arbitration are the Same as Those in Court:  Fail to Take the Time to Understand the Rules of Evidence; Make Numerous and Ineffective Evidentiary Objections

While “not everything goes” in arbitration, arbitration hearings are generally unfettered by the evidentiary rules applicable to court proceedings.  It behooves counsel to know what rules there are and to act accordingly.
Most arbitration providers have rules similar to Rule R-31, AAA Commercial Rules, which states the general evidentiary rule applicable in arbitration:  “Conformity to legal rules of evidence shall not be necessary”  and “The arbitrator is empowered to decide the admissibility, relevance and materiality of evidence that is offered.”  To the same effect is Section 15 of the Revised Uniform Arbitration Act.[2]
Most arbitrators will allow leading questions on preliminary matters or matters which are not critical to disposition.  Avoid, however, leading your own client: doing so telegraphs to the arbitrator that your client is unable to testify . . . so you have to do it for him.
Lay an appropriate foundation for key evidence, but don’t overdo it.  Faced with a “lack of foundation” objection, many arbitrators will overrule it and tell you that you may demonstrate the unreliability (or irrelevance) of the evidence on cross.  Pick up on that and heed her advice.  The case will move along more quickly and, assuming you ask crisp, focused questions on cross, the arbitrator will get the point that your opponent’s evidence is to be ignored or not to be accorded much weight.
While arbitrators will not generally accept 3rd or 4th hand hearsay, they will frequently allow hearsay if the evidence is of the sort that a reasonable and prudent business-person would rely on, reserving for herself a decision on the weight that such evidence should be accorded.  Just because a hearsay objection could (and perhaps should) be made at trial, does not mean that objection should be made at the arbitration hearing.[3]  Making numerous and repetitive objections, especially hearsay objections and sweeping admissibility objections to exhibits on any ground, at the hearing is most often counterproductive and serves only to diminish counsel’s effectiveness in the eyes of the arbitrator.  Wise counsel will limit her objections to those which are recognized in almost every context, such as those based on attorney-client privilege, or which are not only critical to the case but also likely to be sustained (e.g., questions about settlement or mediation).
At trial, counsel would hardly ever get away with introducing a declaration of affidavit from a witness.  The same is not true in arbitration.  See, e.g., Rule R-32, AAA Commercial Rules, which permits such evidence over objection with the caveat that the arbitrator will give it such weight as she deems it entitled to.  Your chances of getting the arbitrator to give your witness’s declaration or affidavit substantial weight will be improved if you make the witness available for cross-examination either by telephone or video conference.

#4 – Misuse Cross-Examination of Witnesses:  Try and use Cross to Prove Your Case in Chief; Fail to Plan Cross Before the Hearing

Any student of trial advocacy knows that cross-examination is one of the most powerful tools available to counsel.  Nonetheless, lawyers continue to:
  • ask open-ended questions on cross, giving the witness an(other) opportunity to tell “his” side of the story
  • ask questions to which the lawyer does not know the answer (a bad idea unless the lawyer doesn’t care what the answer is)
  • try and use cross to prove her case-in-chief
  • spend time on cross laboriously challenging every jot and tittle of the witness’s direct examination, especially as to matters that are not important
 Generally, the most that counsel can hope for from a witness on cross-examination is that some in-roads can be made debunking a key point of the other side’s case.  If you have prepared your case well, you will know what points you can get from the witness on cross.  Make a short list and get to it.  Except in the unusual case, resist the temptation to grill the witness for hours on everything he or she said on direct.  While there is truth to the “death by a thousand cuts” maxim, it is rare that such a strategy yields significant results at a hearing.

#3 – Continue Blithely on, Ignoring What Common Sense Tells (or Should Tell) You: Fail to Know When to Stop; Treat the Arbitrator as an Unsophisticated Rube

The arbitration hearing should not be an endurance contest.  Counsel’s task is to present sufficient evidence on key factual points to sustain her client’s burden of proof and provide a foundation for closing argument; do so and then STOP!  There is a difference between “corroborating” evidence and “cumulative” evidence.  Recognize it.
Know your arbitrator’s professional background and work history; know the elements of proof needed.  Prepare your case accordingly.  While your arbitrator may not be an expert on your client’s industry or the particular legal issues your case presents, he is an intelligent individual, who frequently has “tried” cases before, if not as an arbitrator then as counsel.  If the arbitrator tells you that “I got it”, believe him.  Burdening him with hours more testimony on the same subject will not help him rule in your favor; it will likely antagonize and frustrate him.

#2 – Make it Difficult for the Arbitrator to Rule in Your Client’s Favor:  Fail to Organize Your Case and get Your Client’s Story Across

One would think that counsel would do everything possible to help the arbitrator rule in the client’s favor.  It’s amazing how many times counsel does not do so.  In arbitration, your only audience should be the arbitrator.  Make it easy for the arbitrator to understand your case and follow along.
The arbitrator can only rule in your client’s favor if he understands the facts and why they are important.  In order for the arbitrator to “get it” he needs to be told clearly who did what to whom (or didn’t do something) and how that plays with all the other facts that are important.  Begin to do that in your arbitration brief (if you haven’t had an opportunity before then to give the arbitrator a taste of what the case is about).
Similarly, the arbitrator needs to understand the key legal principles that undergird your case.  While some believe that arbitrators try and do equity (some say, by “splitting the baby”), in my experience arbitrators do their best to apply applicable law to proven facts and let the chips fall where they may.  To that end, counsel needs to clearly and cogently – and persuasively – demonstrate to the arbitrator what the law is, and how the law compels an award in your client’s favor.  Do not assume the arbitrator knows what the law is.
Every case has a “story” to tell.  That story should be simple, interesting and based on fact – not fiction.  Commonly, exhibits are an important part of that story.  Prepare your witnesses to tell the story in their words; let them tell it.  Make sure you integrate exhibits with testimony.  If, as is most often the case, chronology is important, prepare a chronology or time-line; find a way to use it as an exhibit, even a demonstrative one.
Organize the exhibits chronologically, or by issue; eliminate duplicate copies of exhibits (there should be only one exhibit that is the contract at issue); number exhibits so that there is only one “Exhibit 1” (you want the arbitrator to be able to easily find, track and follow exhibits and witnesses’ testimony).  Tell the arbitrator how you’ve organized your case.
Put all exhibits in one or more tabbed ring-binders.  Be sure the arbitrator has her own set of exhibit binders; all counsel and the witness should also have their own set: don’t expect to look over the arbitrator’s shoulder.  Don’t use binders with more than a 3-inch spine; when filled with paper, large-spine binders are too heavy and unwieldy.  Put a few extra tabs in the arbitrator’s binder to accommodate the inevitable “late” exhibits.  When bringing additional exhibits to the hearing for insertion in the binders, make sure the exhibits are hole-punched so the arbitrator can easily add them.  Consider using a separate binder of “core” exhibits that will be referred to frequently during the hearing.

#1 – Fail to Tell the Arbitrator Exactly What Your Client Wants:  Don’t Tell her, Keep it a Secret; Hope the Arbitrator “gets it” by Osmosis

Well before the hearing, develop a theory of the case and be sure your story is laid out by your witnesses (and the answers to your focused cross-examination) and exhibits. The arbitrator will never have the breadth of knowledge that you do – and probably doesn’t want or need to.  She does need a clear roadmap, however.  Give her one.
Use your arbitration brief to tell the arbitrator exactly what relief your client wants, and why; repeat it in your opening statement (“the evidence will show that . . . and that an award of . . . should be entered”) and again in closing argument.  Give the arbitrator a draft award laying out the relief your client wants her to award.  If you want injunctive relief, say so and tell the arbitrator what conduct should be prohibited and for how long; give her the legal basis for such an award.  If you’re seeking pre-award interest, specify the date and amount on which such interest should begin to run and the interest rate that should be used – and why.
Be careful what you ask for, you may get it.  In Washington, attorneys’ fees are awardable only where specifically provided for by contract or statute.  However, if your arbitration is administered under the AAA’s Commercial Rules, be aware of Rule R-43(d):  “The award . . . may include . . . an award of attorneys’ fees if all parties have requested such an award or it is authorized by law or their arbitration agreement.”  Asking for attorneys’ fees only because your opponent has requested such relief (and there is no statute or contract authorizing it) can expose your client to an award for substantial fees even if they would not otherwise be available.

Phil Cutler
August 2011

[1]     The rules of most arbitration provider organizations give the arbitrator substantial power to manage and deal with discovery.  See, e.g., Rules R-21, 30 and 31, AAA Commercial Arbitration Rules, and Rule L-4, AAA Optional Rules for Large Complex Cases.  To the same expect, but more explicitly, is Section 17 of the Revised Uniform Arbitration Act (adopted in Washington (see RCW 7.04A.170), as well as in many other states).  Moreover, commercial users of arbitration (and their general counsel), view overbroad discovery in arbitration as a significant, and expensive, negative.  See  Cutler, “Reclaiming the Promise of Arbitration,” KING COUNTY BAR BULLETIN (July 2011), and Protocols  for Expeditious, Cost Effective Commercial Arbitration (Stipanowich, von Kann and Rothman, eds.) (College of Commercial Arbitrators, 2010), available on line at  Experienced arbitrators tend to actively manage the discovery process so as to reduce the cost of arbitration and improve its effectiveness and efficiency.
[2]     See RCW 7.04A.150(1).
[3]     A key reason for objections at trial is to preserve one’s record for appeal.  Not only is there commonly no transcript of the arbitration hearing, there is very limited judicial review of an arbitrator’s award.  See 9 U.S.C. §10 (Federal Arbitration Act), Section 23 of the Revised Uniform Arbitration Act and RCW 7.04A.230.