Last weekend, I wrote on this blog about the news that a major law firm attempted to require its summer associates to sign mandatory arbitration contracts that required the associates to confidentially arbitrate any Title VII claims, including those involving sexual harassment. After Take Care contributor Ian Samuel broke the news of the arbitration provision, the law firm (Munger Tolles), to its credit, quickly changed course and announced that it would not require its employees to agree to confidential arbitration.
Soon after, two other law firms--Orrick and Skadden Arps--announced, on their own initiative, that they would no longer require employees to sign contracts with arbitration clauses, and that they would retroactiely rescind the arbitration provisions in prior contracts.
It's now been almost a full work week since Munger renounced its arbitration agreement. But there's reason to suspect that other firms have similar agreements, and are either trying to wait this entire thing out or are still deciding what to do.
Enter some very smart and organized Berkeley Law students, who just yesterday wrote a letter to the dean asking the law school to prohibit employers from recruiting on campus if the employers "require any employee, including associates, staff, or summer associates, to agree as a general condition of employment: (1) a mandatory arbitratoin agreement, or (2) a non-disclosure agreement that covers discrimination, harassment, or other workplace misconduct."
It's a smart move for a number of reasons, and if law students at other schools make similar requests, their collective action could effect some significant changes. The Berkeley letter is now public (at the link above), so students at other schools also have a head start on getting organized. The organizer also tweeted it out here. If students at other schools needed any further encouragement, the Berkeley students got a pretty quick and encouraging response from the dean (Take Care contributor Erwin Chemerinsky). With permission I've posted his response below:
Thank you for your thoughtful letter. I confess that I had not heard about this. It is very troubling to me for all of the reasons described in your letter.
I am going to ask ... our CDO office to immediately look into this. I also want to carefully think through how the law school should best respond and how we should best work with other law schools on this.
I assure you I take this very seriously. I am glad to discuss it with you and others. I just want to be sure that we gather all information before we take any action.
So law students, what are you doing this holiday weekend?