A California appellate court on Thursday tossed an arbitration ruling that Seyfarth Shaw won for JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. citing the arbitrator’s failure to disclose at least four other arbitrations involving the firm’s lawyers.
In a 30-page published opinion, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles found that their retired colleague Candace Cooper failed to provide litigants with a page of a required 11-page questionnaire in the run-up to the American Arbitration Association proceeding. Additionally, the panel found that Cooper, who isn’t identified by name in the decision, failed to provide required notice to the parties about four separate arbitrations she was handling that involved Chase’s law firm, Seyfarth Shaw.
“The arbitrator disclosure rules are strict and unforgiving. And for good reason,” wrote Justice John Segal in Thursday’s decision. “Although dispute resolution provider organizations may be in the business of justice, they are still in business.”
“The public deserves and needs to know that the system of private justice that has taken over large portions of California law produces fair and just results from neutral decision-makers,” wrote Segal, who was joined in his opinion by Presiding Justice Dennis Perluss and Justice Gail Ruderman Feuer.
Although the Second District found that the plaintiff, former lead teller Patrice Honeycutt, had waived her arguments related to the questionnaire by not raising them in a timely matter, they held that Cooper’s failure to disclose the other Seyfarth Shaw cases warranted vacating a defense win in the case.
Thursday’s decision from the Second District Court of Appeal revives Honeycutt’s discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination lawsuit against the bank and reverses an earlier decision from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey who previously upheld Cooper’s ruling.
“The tide might just changing with respect to arbitrations and employment cases,” said Honeycutt’s lawyer, Twila White of Los Angeles. In a phone interview Friday afternoon, White said that the #MeToo movement has raised public awareness of the types of claims that have been “swept under the rug” through confidential arbitrations. “Now I think the public is understanding the significance of the right to trial by jury.”
Seyfarth Shaw’s Jeffrey Wortman, part of the defense team in the case, didn’t respond to messages Friday.