Alternative Dispute Resolution

Bias cases of JAMS arbitrator who shared racist email should undergo review, group says

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The National Employment Lawyers Association is calling for a review of discrimination cases overseen by a former JAMS arbitrator who shared a racist email with a list of 39 people.

The arbitrator, Richard Neville, mistakenly shared the email with a lawyer for the National Rifle Association, according to an NRA lawsuit.

The suit seeks return of fees paid in an arbitration overseen by Neville. Law360 had coverage of the July 29 lawsuit and the NELA’s call for a review here and here; also had coverage here and here.

Nevile is a retired Cook County, Illinois judge. After disclosure of the email, JAMS severed ties with Neville, said it would review its vetting process for neutrals, and formed a working group to address racism and make recommendations.

Neville’s email shared “a toxic rant” said to come from the Baltimore Sun, which in reality was published by a far-right “white advocacy” website, according to the lawsuit.

The post argued that people “taken from the jungles of African” can’t be integrated into U.S. society, and that Black and white people “differ intellectually and temperamentally.” The article ended with the conclusion that “white frustration could soon reach the boiling point.”

The NRA suit said Neville didn’t apologize when an NRA lawyer objected. Instead, he allegedly told the lawyer that the list was made up of longtime friends and golf buddies. One person on the list was a Winston & Strawn partner, the lawsuit said. Winston & Strawn was the opposing counsel in the NRA arbitration.

After disclosure of the email, JAMS said it was reviewing its vetting process for arbitrators. The NELA said JAMS should review all cases overseen by Neville and should monitor bias throughout the organization.

Law360 published a statement by Wade Cowan, the president of the NELA.

“We were deeply disturbed to learn of Judge Neville’s distribution of racist ideology,” Cowan 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?”

JAMS told Law360 that it “certainly welcomes a discussion to inform NELA about the actions JAMS is taking.”

Winston & Strawn told in a statement that the NRA lawsuit was “a blatant and deliberate attempt by the NRA to taint the reputation of those that oppose them in litigation.” The statement said the Winston & Strawn partner copied on the email was not part of the arbitration, and he deleted the email without sending it to anyone.

The statement said the NRA had proposed that Neville serve as the arbitrator.

“Winston & Strawn learned about this email at the same time the NRA did, and we immediately agreed that it rendered the arbitrator unfit and he should be removed from the case,” the statement said.

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