Amazon running scared from arbitration at scale

The right kind of automation.

Cory Doctorow


A statue of blind justice outside of a courthouse; in the corner lurks a caricature of a fat-cat businessman with a bag of money in place of his head. Image: Tim Evanson (modified) CC BY-SA:

“Binding arbitration waivers” started out as a way for giant companies going into business with one another to avoid costly litigation by agreeing in advance to have a private arbitrator hear their disputes.

But Federalist Society judges, led by Antonin Scalia, spent a decade dismantling protections that ensured that binding arbitration was only used between equals, and not forced upon workers and consumers.

The result was a massive wealth-transfer to corporations, who could defraud and maim with impunity, safe in the knowledge that their victims had signed away their right to sue, especially through class action.

These victims would be limited to filing individual cases, each one confidential and non-precedential (meaning that a loss to one victim didn’t pave the way to losses to the rest), heard by a private “judge” who depended on the company for their salary.

The plan worked…until it didn’t. In 2018, 12,500 California Uber drivers filed arbitration claims against the company, putting the company on the hook to find 12,500 arbitrators and pay them $1500 retainers.

Uber scrambled to fight the mass arbitration claims, even getting Keller Lenkner, the firm behind the claims, disqualified. It became clear that the point of arbitration wasn’t to create an alternative justice system — but to have no justice system.

The California Uber drivers' mass-filings didn’t cool the corporate world’s love affair with arbitration. By 2020, 81% of Fortune 100 companies were routinely forcing arbitration waivers on workers and customers.

All those waivers were an irresistible target, and an alliance of Silicon Valley law…