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Arbitration irrelevancy

MBJ Editorial

Employers have a new reason to wonder if the arbitration agreements they have initiated with workers are worth even the paper on which they are written.

In a 6-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court found that it is acceptable for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to intercede on behalf of employees “who have signed away the right to sue their employers,” as an Associated Press report put it.

Writing for the majority in EEOC vs. Waffle House, Justice John Paul Stevens said that the federal agency is “the master of its own case.” Therefore, the EEOC, despite a signed arbitration agreement between employee and employer, may intervene and pursue “recovery of victim-specific relief.”

In recent years, arbitration has emerged as a cost-effective way for businesses to deal with an increasingly litigious society. Far too many employers suffer needless anxiety and face large legal bills as a result of frivolous lawsuits from former (and existing) employees.

While discrimination in the workplace is abhorrent and unconscionable, needlessly trumping valid arbitration agreements is just as troubling.

And in the end, who pays? All of us.

Businesses absorb few costs; most are passed on to customers and clients. People don’t mind paying for quality goods and services, but covering the costs brought on by overzealous bureaucrats and lawyers is outrageous.

Arbitration agreements make good sense. It is up to prospective employees to understand the condition of their employment. And yes, that might mean reading the fine print. Simmering below the surface of this situation is the growing sentiment in our country that no one is really responsible for anything that happens to them.

Imagine the whining: “Oh, um, I just signed whatever they gave me. I didn’t think it was important. I didn’t understand. It’s not my fault.”

Yes, it is.

Employment, like any relationship, involves risk, as well as opportunity. An employee has just as much responsibility in understanding the risks as an employer. Sadly, last week’s Supreme Court decision erodes further an America where independence, self-reliance and personal responsibility are valued.


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