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LGBTQ Students Refuse Funds From Law Firms With Arbitration

Nov. 6, 2019, 10:11 PM

A group of 14 LGBTQ affinity groups from top law schools, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, will no longer accept funds from law firms that require employees to sign arbitration agreements.

The affinity groups were organized by the People’s Parity Project, a student-led organization dedicated to eliminating discrimination in the legal profession.

Big Law firms typically give donations of several thousand dollars a year to LGBTQ affinity groups on law school campuses, which use the money for programming and conferences. Firms also often sponsor dinners and conferences directly.

The LGBTQ+ affinity groups informed law firms of their new policy in late October.

Students organizing with the parity project have campaigned against arbitration agreements at law firms since 2018. That’s when a group of more than 40 law school deans asked firms to disclose whether they require employees to sign such agreements as a condition of employment.

Members of the parity project and other critics of arbitration agreements argue that they force employees to sign away their right to bring claims over issues like workplace sex harassment, discrimination, and wage theft in court. Arbitration forums also often favor employers, according to critics.

Several law firms, including Kirkland & Ellis and Sidley Austin, have dropped arbitration provisions following student pressure.

Another of them, Williams & Connolly, was praised by parity project for “dropping” its arbitration agreements for non-attorney staff. The firm, which previously said in a Harvard Law School survey that it required arbitration for non-attorney staff, told the students that it does not currently do so, the group said.

A representative for Williams & Connolly declined comment.

The group also launched a social media campaign against Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, urging the firm to remove arbitration for all employees.

Gibson Dunn said it doesn’t require summer associates and first-year associates to sign forced arbitration agreements, but that it hasn’t eliminated the contracts for non-attorney staff like paralegals, according to the parity project.

“We do ask some categories of employees to agree to arbitrate their claims, as we think arbitration can be a fair and more efficient manner of resolving disputes than court,” the firm wrote to LGBTQ affinity group Harvard Lambda, according to a message shared with Bloomberg Law by members of the parity project.

Harvard Law School Lambda is one of the affinity groups now severing ties with the Gibson Dunn unless it changes the policy, according to Sejal Singh, Harvard law student and founding co-director of the parity project.

“As long as Gibson Dunn or any other firm subjects its employees to forced arbitration, we simply do not know whether they are safe and equitable workplaces for queer and trans workers,” Singh said in a statement.

Gibson Dunn declined comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft in New York at srussellkraft@gmail.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com