This article explores the evolution of alternative dispute resolution, primarily arbitration, in settling disputes between parties. While the basic structure of arbitration has remained the same throughout human history, the intricacies have changed between the ancient uses and the current use of arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act. As the nature of employment and collective bargaining have developed, so too have the courts developed a body of jurisprudence to help guide arbitration.
Labor arbitration has been documented since the mid nineteenth century and expanded in use during the post-Civil War Era. Labor arbitration became a necessary part of labor law during World War II, and Supreme Court interpretation of the Labor Management Relations Act made arbitration central to collective bargaining.
Before the Supreme Court’s 1991 decision in Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., employment arbitration under the Federal Arbitration act was essentially nonexistent. Since Gilmer, arbitration has become heavily favored in employment disputes. In 2001 the Supreme Court held, in Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, that the Federal Arbitration Act applies to employment contract disputes where employment is involved in interstate commerce.
The purpose of this article is to emphasize the expanding role of alternative dispute resolution, specifically arbitration, in the American judicial system. Both commentators and Supreme Court justices have applauded the burden arbitration takes off of the courts. By highlighting the critical moments in the historical evolution of arbitration, this article shows that no matter the technical changes in substance, the form of arbitration remains and will continue to expand in practice and popularity as an alternative means of solving employment and labor disputes.