The author is a labor arbitrator and mediator based in Newport, R.I. He is also an associate professor of labor and industrial relations at the University of Rhode Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most professions face legal consequences for professional negligence. This is why professional liability insurance exists. At a recent training program I attended for new labor arbitrators, the trainer suggested that we purchase liability insurance because the number of lawsuits against arbitrators was increasing.1 This was news to many in the room, particularly the non-lawyers, who never imagined that an award upholding a discharge from employment or loss of seniority or a promotion might lead a grievant to go after the arbitrator in court. Coincidently, shortly after I attended that training program, a colleague who has been a labor arbitrator for many years was sued for the first time by a grievant whose termination he had upheld.
There is no federal statute protecting arbitrators from liability. The Revised Uniform Arbitration Act does give arbitrators immunity to the same extent as judges.2 So there is some protection from liability in states that have adopted this model law. In addition, arbitrators are protected by the common law doctrine of arbitral immunity. However, this doctrine will not prevent arbitrators from being sued by dissatisfied arbitration litigants. The purpose of this article is to give labor arbitrators an overview of arbitrator immunity and its application to labor arbitration.3