Monday, December 5, 2011

Shared “personal life experience” does not create evident partiality

        A recent case from the Supreme Court of Delaware has addressed the issue of an arbitrator’s obligation to disclose a life experience which may be shared with one of the parties to an arbitration. Delaware Transit Corp. v. Aalgamated Transit Union Local 842, et al.  Grievant was dismissed by Delaware Transit Corporation (DTC) after his eighth “miss”, defined as a failure to report on time for a scheduled work day. According to grievant’s testimony, his attendance problem was caused, at least in part, by his need to care for his mother in law, who was suffering side effects from chemotherapy  treatment for cancer. The arbitrator sustained the grievance, reinstating the grievant with back pay, less interim earnings.
        DTC moved to vacate the award, due to the claimed appearance of bias or partiality on the part of the arbitrator. The employer argued that the arbitrator should have disclosed that his wife had died of cancer a few months before the arbitration hearing. According to DTC this created the appearance of bias or partiality because of grievant’s situation with his mother in law.  The lower court granted the Union’s motion for summary judgment and DTC appealed.
        On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court noted “ The only grounds for vacating the award that DTC raises in its opening brief …is that the integrity of the arbitration was compromised because the Arbitrator’s shared life experience gave the appearance of bias or partiality”.
        After reviewing the AAA Labor Arbitration Rules, the Code of Professional Responsibility for Arbitrators of Labor Management Disputes, and prior cases dealing with the evident partiality standard, the Court concluded "The alleged bias or partiality which DTC attributes to the Arbitrator in this matter fails to meet the 'evident partiality' standard. The mere fact that an arbitrator may share a personal life experience with a party or party’s agent is legally insufficient to constitute a substantial relationship that a reasonable person would conclude is powerfully suggestive of bias. We hold that arbitrators are not disqualified because of their shared life experience with a party or party’s agent and that the disclosure of a shared life experience is not mandatory."

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