It has been said that a tidal wave starts with a ripple in the ocean. I’m not sure if that’s true, but a Texas judge recently cast a stone in the polluted waters of arbitration, that may hopefully lead to a tidal wave of change for workers and consumers forced to give up their constitutional rights to a jury trial.
Tom Spieczny is a soft spoken and humble man. A former union attorney, he is a worker’s advocate. He is also the judge of County Court of Law Number Seven in El Paso, Texas. In a recent hearing, an employer was attempting to compel arbitration in a “non-subscriber” case — which is basically an injury case brought by a worker against an employer that does not have workers compensation insurance. The plaintiff in that case was a part-time dishwasher employed at a fast food restaurant earning $7.40 per hour. Like many workers, her so-called “agreement” to arbitrate her legal claims was simply accepting a position with a company that has an arbitration policy in its handbook.
In a direct and honest opinion, Judge Spieczny not only denied the employer’s motion, but challenged the disingenuous arguments often used by corporations to justify arbitration. A copy of the judge’s opinion can be found here. My favorite “finding” by the court is found in paragraph #26:
“This Court finds that Whataburger, the AAA, and the individual arbitrators are all profiting very handsomely from this arbitration policy. The inescapable conclusion is that those profits come from precluding dishwashers from receiving the compensation they could otherwise obtain in the judicial system.”
In finding the arbitration agreement “unconscionable”, Judge Spieczny went on to state:
“It is hard for this Court to think of anything more repulsive than perpetuating a system that lets large corporations lavishly buy their way out of a judicial accountability and into a system more favorable to their side.”
Well said Judge Spieczny. One can only hope that our appellate courts and legislature take heed of this small ripple of common sense emanating from far west Texas.
“In Suits of common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury, shall be preserved, . . .”
– Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution