Scope Of Arbitration Provision Was Broad And Unconscionability Was Lacking.
The beginning of the cock fight. Edwin Rosskam, photographer. 1937. Library of Congress.
Respondents/defendants successfully move to compel arbitration pursuant to Hanson’s employment agreement. Arbitration awards denied most of Hanson’s claim. He petitioned unsuccessfully to vacate the arbitration awards, and then appealed from a judgment dismissing his complaint after confirmation of the arbitration awards.
Hanson’s appeal mounted two challenges. First, he argued the arbitration clause was not broad enough to encompass his tort claims. However, the arbitration clause included “arising out of” type language – and claims arising out of a contractual relationship have been held to include tort claims.
Second, he argued the arbitration agreement was unconscionable. His most compelling, albeit unsuccessful argument, was that the arbitration clause contained built-in bias, because it required the dispute be referred to the NFL Commissioner, whose salary is paid for by the NFL teams, and who might therefore be expected to have a pro-team, anti-player bias. Unfortunately for Hanson, however, the arbitration provision also offered him an opportunity to seek an arbitration conducted in a “manner [as the NFL Commissioner] deems appropriate, and in a matter designed to reach a fair and prompt outcome, consistent with the circumstances of the particular dispute.” The Court interpreted this provision to create “a contractual obligation to arbitrate or to propose alternative methods of arbitrating the dispute.” And Hanson did not pursue an alternative method.
COMMENT: We cannot know if Hanson’s alternative of seeking an unbiased arbitrator would have proved to be illusory. However, if Hanson had requested an unbiased arbitrator, only to find that door slammed shut, perhaps his unconscionability argument would have then gained more traction.
NOTE: The on-line biography of Justice Jenkins, who penned the opinion, states he entered law school, “after a brief period of employment with the Seattle Seahawks Professional Football Team.”