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Civil Rights Appellate Clinic asks High Court to ensure that employees cannot be forced to arbitrate without fair hearing

Penn State Law's Civil Rights Appellate Clinic filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in Rent-A-Center, West v. Antonio Jackson. The Court will hear oral arguments in the case on April 26. The question presented in this case is who, a court or a private arbitrator, should determine whether an arbitration agreement is grossly unfair.

The brief argues that individuals—especially those who are bringing a claim under the Civil Rights Act--should not be unfairly forced to give up their right to go to court. The United States District Court forced Antonio Jackson into arbitration--where an individual not a court decides outcomes--because of a contract he signed as a condition of his employment. The court did not first determine whether the arbitration agreement was grossly unfair. The appeals court reversed that decision, saying that Jackson had raised a legitimate question as to whether the arbitration clause was void for being grossly unfair—for example that Jackson would not have gotten the job unless he signed the agreement.

"Jackson is not what would, at first, appear to be a traditional civil rights issue," says third-year law student N. Daniel Reeder ’10 who has worked on the brief. "It reminds us that questions regarding our fundamental civil rights may pervade even the most mundane of contracting issues." Reeder added, “No longer are the cases we take on abstract or academic. Cases like these involve real people and real problems, and we are called upon to use every lawyering skill we have to protect our clients."  

The clinic is acting as counsel of record in the case for six civil rights groups: the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Alliance for Justice, the Asian American Justice Center, the Constitutional Accountability Center, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and the National Women’s Law Center.

Founded and directed by Professor Michael Foreman, the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic provides intensive training in appellate advocacy by involving students in the noncriminal civil rights cases before the state appellate courts, federal courts of appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court.


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