Readers of this blog will no doubt notice (in posts here, here, here and here, for example) that my passion for employment law is matched only by my love of the New York Yankees. (I leave to others to debate whether that is a character flaw; Red Sox fans need not chime in, however.)
The story over the weekend regarding the suspension of Alex Rodriguez from the New York Yankees after an arbitration decision hits both of those subjects.
(The arbitrator banned Rodriguez for the 2014 baseball season. On Monday, Rodriguez applied to a federal court for a stay of the decision and to have the decision overturned.)
Baseball arbitrations are typically viewed as a model of how an arbitration proceeding is supposed to work. It is viewed overall as fair and equitable.
And, regardless of what you think about A-Rod, it is that arbitration process and procedure that will assuredly lead to his suspension being upheld.
Lester Munson – ESPN’s legal analyst – nails the analysis in my view:
Rodriguez has zero chance of ultimate success. He and his team of lawyers and public relations specialists will make dramatic claims that the arbitration hearing was unfair and that the evidence against him was deeply flawed. But after they have concluded their fulminations, Rodriguez and his team will end up facing the fact that the decision will not be reconsidered. …
Federal courts are reluctant to review and to second-guess arbitration awards. The rationale for arbitration is that it is a fast and accurate method for resolving disputes and avoids the delays and the expense of conventional litigation. The players and the owners agreed to arbitration for disputes decades ago — in the Marvin Miller era — and the arbitration process has produced significant victories for the players over the years. When the owners attempted to set aside adverse arbitration decisions on free agency, the courts refused to reconsider arbitration rulings. Like all others in all businesses that agree in contracts to submit disputes to arbitration, Rodriguez will learn that federal judges have no interest in reconsidering rulings by arbitrators.
In other words, the rules that apply to ordinary employment arbitrations will apply here. And arbitrations decisions are rarely overturned nowadays.
Under the Federal Arbitration Act, arbitrations can typically be overturned only if:
(1) the award “was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means”; (2) “there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators”; (3) the arbitrators engaged in misbehavior by refusing to consider material evidence, refusing without cause to postpone a hearing, or other acts that prejudiced one of the litigants; or (4) the arbitrators “exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.”
(Of course, I’m simplifying this a bit for a blog post; there are other legal theories such as “manifest disregard” that have been used to overturn arbitration awards.)
In A-Rod’s case, it’s hard to see that the arbitrator made such a big mistakes in such a heavily arbitrated matter. (The punishment is harsh, but not so harsh that it is viewed as a “shock” to others.) The arbitrator is well versed in procedures and substance. Even if there are errors in the decision, it will still be upheld by the courts.
So, ignore the bluster from A-Rod’s attorneys about the strength of their case; whatever they may argue publicly, the appeal of his suspension is a very long shot — longer than the longest of A-Rod’s home runs.
For employers, the case should be a reminder that if you go down the arbitration route for your employees and their employment-related disputes, don’t expect the courts to get involved. (Jon Hyman, of the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, is not a big fan of mandatory arbitration provisions.)