For Immediate Release
Contact: Andrea Hansen
Arbitrator’s dissemination of racist content exposes the threat of concealed prejudice among “neutrals”
Washington, D.C. – September 8, 2020 – The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), the nation’s largest legal association whose members exclusively or primarily represent workers, and its related charitable arm The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute For Law & Policy, are urging JAMS, a private dispute resolution provider, to conduct a full assessment of all discrimination cases overseen by Judge Richard Neville. Neville recently distributed via email to 39 recipients a racist essay contending the inferiority of Black Americans. He has since left JAMS.
As a JAMS neutral (arbitrator), Neville decided case outcomes, including employment discrimination cases, many of which are before JAMS instead of a court due to forced arbitration clauses imposed by employers on their employees. Now his neutrality on previous cases, particularly those related to discrimination or involving people of color, must be called into question due to his legitimizing of discriminatory beliefs. Neville’s willingness to share racist rhetoric with colleagues, including another JAMS neutral, under his JAMS email signature also raises concerns about whether the culture at the organization ignores or harbors racism.
While NELA and The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute support voluntary dispute resolution, the organizations have long advocated against forced arbitration, a practice in which employers require workers, as a condition of employment, to give up the right to take the company to court if they are subject to illegal treatment. The revelation about Neville brings to the fore the additional burden employees bear when cases are handled by an arbitrator who tolerates or harbors bias.
The organizations have issued a request to JAMS outlining several actions it must take to investigate racism in Neville’s cases, as well as organization-wide:
- Review each discrimination case Neville oversaw while with JAMS
- Conduct a complete review of each neutral’s record and issue a public reporting of each neutral’s decisions
- Implement a formal process for monitoring and evaluating each of its neutrals on an ongoing basis
- Implement a more thorough and rigorous initial vetting process, wherein both the procedures and criteria used, as well as the findings, are publicly available
- Focus on hiring neutrals who demonstrate a lack of bias through their work
- Improve efforts to recruit plaintiff-side attorneys, attorneys of color, public interest attorneys, and bilingual attorneys
“We were deeply disturbed to learn of Judge Neville’s distribution of racist ideology,” Wade Cowan, NELA president, said. “Many American workers are forced into arbitration by their employers as the only way to vindicate their workplace rights, such as the right to be free from discrimination. With the system already rigged in employers’ favor, how can workers of color and those who have experienced workplace discrimination trust arbitration when ostensible neutrals, who will decide their case, may not be neutral at all?”
About the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) and The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute For Law & Policy
Founded in 1985, the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) is the nation’s largest bar association whose members exclusively or primarily represent workers to ensure the preservation of their rights. The organization provides continuing legal education, works to ensure a fair judiciary, and advocates for laws and policies that promote justice for workers. NELA members have represented tens of thousands of individuals who have experienced injustice in the workplace. NELA founded The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute For Law & Policy in 2008 to study issues that impact workers, inform policymakers about necessary systemic improvements and educate the public about workers’ rights.