Jay-Z to the Rescue?

Many of us over the years have worried not only about the process and fairness of mandatory arbitration, but also exactly who is doing the arbitrating.  Apparently, this is a shared concern.  In a filing in a New York state court, Jay-Z (Shawn Carter)  argues that the lack of diversity of arbitrators available to him violates equal protection under the law. (Hat tip to Ben Davis for posting on the listserve!)

From the filing:

When Mr. Carter began reviewing arbitrators on the AAA’s Search Platform… he was confronted with a stark reality: he could not identify a single African-American arbitrator on the “Large and Complex Cases” roster, composed of hundreds of arbitrators, that had the background and experience to preside over the Arbitration. After repeated requests to the AAA for diverse arbitrators with expertise in complex commercial law, the AAA was able to provide only three neutrals it identified as African-American: two men—one of whom was a partner at the law firm representing Iconix in this arbitration and thus had a glaringly obvious conflict of interest—and one woman.

The AAA’s lack of African-American arbitrators with the expertise necessary to arbitrate “Large and Complex Cases” came as a surprise to Petitioners, in part because of the AAA’s advertising touting its diversity. This blatant failure of the AAA to ensure a diverse slate of arbitrators for complex commercial cases is particularly shocking given the prevalence of mandatory arbitration provisions in commercial contracts across nearly all industries, which undoubtedly include minority owned and operated businesses. The AAA’s arbitration procedures, and specifically its roster of neutrals for large and complex cases in New York, deprive black litigants like Mr. Carter and his companies of the equal protection of the laws, equal access to public accommodations, and mislead consumers into believing that they will receive a fair and impartial adjudication.

Go Jay-Z!  Sometimes it take a celebrity to really shine a light on broken processes and if this forces AAA and other providers to look carefully at their rosters for lack of race, ethnic, and gender diversity, we will all be better off.

9 thoughts on “Jay-Z to the Rescue?”

  1. I find this topic very interesting because the issue is bigger than just arbitration. African-Americans are often marketed that they have the same equal platform as other races which often not true, especially in the justice system. People fail to realize the lack of diversity in legal world is causing a significant impact to truly developing the law and offering neutral unbiased decisions. This issue goes beyond lack of African-American arbitrators but even judges, lawyers, and more. I think it is important for celebrities to challenge these issues because their platform highlights the issue more then a common day scenario. It very frustrating that minorities have to consistently address the issue of lack of diversity when we all have the same eyes with the ability to see who are in these rooms and organizations. If people do not begin to comment on these issues they are part of the problem. It is frustrating that people don’t realize that if you have a group of people from the same background and race you are only offering one lense to the solution. Jay-Z deserves better and so does every one else.

  2. I have been a huge fan of Jay-Z for years, so this article is music to my ears. First and foremost, the substance of the article is absolutely shocking to me. Not a single African-American on the entire roster of arbitrators?! African-Americans, as well as other minorities, have long been underrepresented when it comes to issues like this, and this is yet another example. Lack of representation on an arbitration roster is especially important because it needs to be ensured that the decisions that the arbitrators make are fair and unbiased. Of course, it is tough to ensure that all of their decisions are made without prejudice, but a good way to start is by adding some minorities to the roster. Far too often nowadays celebrities are using their wide-ranging platforms for the wrong reasons. Therefore, I love what Jay-Z is doing.

    1. Nick, your points about the article and overall comments about the issue really resonated with me. The lack of diversity in arbitrators is truly shocking but to see we are taking steps to change that, with individuals most wouldn’t expect, is a big step forward.

  3. I have been a huge fan of Jay-Z for years, so this article is music to my ears. First and foremost, the actual substance of the article is shocking to me. Not a single African-American on the entire roster of arbitrators?! That is just unacceptable. African-Americans, as well as other minorities, have long been underrepresented when it comes to issues like this. Further, being adequately represented when it comes to a roster of arbitrators is especially important because it is needed to ensure fair and unbiased decisions are made. Of course, not every decision will be made without prejudice. However, adding a few minorities to the huge roster of current arbitrators is a good start. Nowadays, celebrities are far too often using their wide-ranging platforms for the wrong reasons. Therefore, it is good to see Jay-Z using his power for something that can advance us as a society.

  4. I found this article to be interesting for numerous reasons. First, being an avid hip-hop fan, I was immediately interested in the article as it involves rap legend Jay-Z. Second, it shows even celebrities can be dragged into arbitration. Third, as Renee stated, the article provides a bigger issue than arbitration. The article states that the AAA was only able to provide three naturals they identified as African-American, with two of them being a conflict of interest. After reading this, I began to wonder how many minority arbitrators existed in general for complex commercial cases. Being a minority myself, this is a prime example of how the minority classes are constantly being underrepresented in the legal world. Lastly, I support Jay-Z for challenging the AAA and shining light on the lack of diversity issue in these arbitration cases. Even if Jay-Z doesn’t prevail, addressing this issue will potentially and hopefully bring greater diversity within not only the arbitration world, but in society as well.

  5. I often find it interesting when seemingly non-mainstream legal issues make it into the mainstream because of who the parties are. I certainly did not expect to wake up the other day to arbitration news being one of the main headlines of the day, but here we are. I think situations like these can be helpful in prompting discussion of these issues outside of legal circles.

    As for the substantive issue in this story, I found it extremely surprising that there was not a single African-American arbitrator in the “Large and Complex Cases” roster. While I certainly think it is possible for white arbitrators to arbitrate a case involving African American fairly and in an unbiased manner, the present state of African American arbitrators in the AAA does raise some red flags, especially since the AAA touts itself as a diverse service provider. What other claims could the AAA not be completely truthful about? That it why it is important for stories like this to be making mainstream news, so that awareness of the issue is accelerated and–hopefully, for the sake of public trust in the process–change is effected.

  6. I think Jay-Z’s lawsuit is well timed and very interesting. Considering that arbitration clauses are so hard to get out of, Jay-Z and his legal team are posing what seems to be a good argument. While I cannot say how or where the legal case will go, I think Jay-Z is challenging arbitration norms that have likely been around for a long time. Currently, is no legal precedent for racial discrimination regarding arbitrators, but I think Jay-Z’s goal is to illuminate the problems of this process for a person of color. At the very minimum, Jay-Z is using his platform to shed light on a particular form of racial inequality. In my opinion, that is a significant step in the right direction.

  7. While an avid hip-hop fan, I’m more on Nas’ side of the beef with Jay-Z. That aside, sometimes it does take the biggest names and the biggest draws for people to actually pay attention to something. This is unfortunately overlooked by general society when it involves a minority claim. Instead of taking claims on their merits, somehow they need to be validated by more instead. It exists not only in race but gender, and more. This is something that could have easily been overlooked but Jay-Z is doing a great job bringing publicity to something that needs to be more transparent. As Simone said, Jay-Z is using his platform to try and make a change, and even if he does not succeed, he’s at least bringing awareness and trying to change the consciousness around these issues. It seems that members of the Black Community, and other minorities in this country are underrepresented in the legal system as a whole, but this brings one more aspect of it into play. Other rappers are taking on criminal justice reform, and for the right reasons, but there are many more areas of the law and this society that need to be changed for there to be true equality.

  8. I love what Jay-Z is doing in trying to effect social change. He has led a variety of efforts in advocating for people of color. Therefore, I totally support what Jay-Z is doing here. It is awesome that he continues to be a driving force for social change and has worked tirelessly to accomplish this. This, especially, is important, as it is advocating for people of color in the legal system (a part of society where people of color have been widely underrepresented in).

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