Besides banning forced arbitration in consumer and franchise contracts, the Arbitration Fairness Act bans mandatory binding arbitration clauses in employment contracts. John’s story illustrates why this is necessary, inside.
When I was seven, I saved the lives of my two younger cousins who were playing on the railroad tracks. They did not notice the train coming, but I did and frantically ran to them. I was able to toss them both to safety, but I fell and my pants got caught on the rail. I have been living with one leg ever since.
Thirty surgeries and two decades later, I was doing fine as a medically trained professional, drawing blood for lab tests at the University of Southern California Hospital. I did my job just as easily on crutches as with a properly fitting prosthetic leg, and had supervisors who understood that I needed to switch between the two because artificial legs don’t always fit the way they should. Padding wears down and that extra pressure causes painful blistering that can take weeks to heal, months if the blisters get infected. It also takes weeks to get my leg back when it needs to be refitted.
When staffing needs at USC changed and I had to transfer to the Tenet facility at Garfield Medical Center, my working environment turned ugly. In this day and age, when the law says employers have to accommodate the disabled, the last thing I expected to hear from my new supervisor was, “Go home and put on your leg,” but it was something she told me over and over. I did what she asked for as long as I could because I did not want to lose my job, but wearing the leg on top of the blisters gave me a bad infection. Artificial limbs wear out and, at this time, I also had to get a new leg, which meant a lengthy medical review process and insurance delays to replace my basic prosthetic device which costs $34,000. Because my supervisor refused to let me do my job on crutches, I was unable to work for six months. When I returned to Garfield, my job was gone.
The only work they had for me was as a daily hire on the graveyard shift, where a new supervisor let other workers make disparaging remarks to me. When I complained to her, she said I should not take it seriously, that they were just “playing around.” I could not let my situation continue, so I told the human resources department I was filing a grievance. My job performance reviews were the only thing that changed after that. They went from always good to always bad.
I thought I had an “open-and-shut case” of discrimination, so I found a lawyer and he filed a lawsuit against Tenet and Garfield. Four days later, I was fired for something I never did, mislabel specimens.
Evidence and facts matter in a court of law, but I didn’t have access to one. Tenet employment contracts include a binding mandatory arbitration clause which prevented me from having my case heard before a real judge in a legitimate court. Instead, my case was reviewed by an arbitrator Tenet hired, guaranteeing I would lose and they would be protected.
I was never going to get a fair hearing, but just to make doubly sure of that, Tenet offered the arbitrator two more case to handle while she was in the process of evaluating my case. I lost, of course, but because of this treachery and the strong evidence we had, my lawyer tried to get a regular court to throw out the arbitration decision. That was a failure too.