Leaders in dispute resolution to meet at Penn State Law, Sept. 7-8

A select group of about 30 scholars, advocates for employees and employers, dispute resolution providers, agency representatives, and policymakers will convene at the Law School Sept. 7 and 8. Their mission, according to Nancy Welsh, William Trickett Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law, is to “move the ball forward” in resolving the controversy over the use of mandatory arbitration in employment matters.

The National Roundtable on Dispute Resolution is the formal name the organizers have given to work that began last year when a number of leading scholars and experts in the field became frustrated with the stalemate in the legal and policy debates over mandatory arbitration. “Many us with a real passion for the processes of arbitration and mediation perceive that the current legal and political framework permits, and may even encourage, abuse of these good processes in which we have invested so much of our minds and hearts,” Welsh said. Welsh, together with Professors Tom Stipanowich of Pepperdine, Lisa Blomgren Bingham of Indiana University, and David Lipsky of Cornell, and the American Bar Association Dispute Resolution Section chair-elect Ruth Glick, believed that by establishing an agenda aimed at results and by ensuring the confidentiality of the proceedings themselves, new ideas and solutions would emerge.

The first National Roundtable occurred in February and focused on consumer dispute resolution. As an outcome of the meeting, the Planning Committee produced a summary report and groups began working on procedural initiatives and research projects identified at the meeting. Welsh sees a number of objectives for the upcoming Roundtable which includes:

-- Introducing new ideas to protect the fairness of arbitration, mediation and other ADR (alternative dispute resolution) processes used in the employment context
-- Proposing different procedures, as well as new structural frameworks for existing procedures, that would reduce employees’ concerns and be just as effective as mandatory arbitration
-- Looking at ways to ensure that employees are aware of their rights and have access to assistance in using mandatory arbitration or other processes
-- Considering other promising procedural innovations and areas, as well as online dispute resolution, for further research

"It concerns me that arbitration, mediation and other dispute resolution processes may be used -- or may be perceived to be used -- as abusive, coercive tools to serve privilege and power," Welsh said. "That’s not what arbitration, mediation and dispute resolution are supposed to be about. These procedures were meant to facilitate people’s opportunity to resolve their disputes themselves, in the manner they voluntarily chose. They were always meant to be fair for everyone involved. We have the opportunity here to move toward points of consensus, among leaders drawn from all areas of the current debate, and explore ways to stay true to that vision."

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Last Updated July 22, 2015