| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Nov 7 A lawyer for Goldman Sachs
urged a U.S. appeals court Wednesday to send a former
employee's gender discrimination dispute to arbitration rather
than allow her to proceed with a proposed class action.
The case is being watched closely because it could help
other employers avoid discrimination class actions like the one
filed by Lisa Parisi, a former Goldman Sachs managing director.
Robert Giuffra, a lawyer for Goldman Sachs, told a
three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
New York that a lower court was incorrect in deciding last year
not to send Parisi's case to arbitration.
"When she signed the agreement and became one of the more
highly paid people at Goldman, she agreed to arbitration as the
forum," Giuffra said.
But Paul Bland, a lawyer for Parisi, argued that arbitration
clauses can't prohibit employees from bringing class actions
alleging a pattern or practice of discrimination at a company
under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
"This is a substantive right," he said.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have favored
In April 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a unit of
AT&T Inc could enforce a class action waiver in an
arbitration agreement signed by a plaintiff bringing a proposed
consumer class action.
While the AT&T case focused on consumer rights, corporations
have since last year sought to extend the reach of the ruling to
employment law, in efforts to avoid discrimination and
The Goldman case at issue Wednesday was filed in 2010 by
three women, including Parisi. The lawsuit accused Goldman of
gender bias and an "outdated corporate culture" favoring men
over women for pay and promotions.
The lawsuit, which sought class action status, demanded
punitive and other damages as well as a change in Goldman's
policies toward women.
Soon after the lawsuit was filed, Goldman asked the court to
enforce Parisi's arbitration agreement and require her to
proceed by herself rather than in a class action.
In April 2011, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis denied
Goldman's motion. Goldman urged Francis to reconsider his ruling
in light of the Supreme Court's AT&T decision, but he declined
in July 2011. U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand affirmed the
magistrate's ruling in November 2011.
At the hearing Wednesday, three federal appeals court
judges grilled both sides over the extent to which the legal
rights Parisi would lose if sent to arbitration would be
procedural, which can be waived by contract, rather than
substantive, which can't.
"I'm still not clear, what do you think you're losing
there?" Circuit Judge Barrington Daniels Parker asked Parisi's
Both sides in the Goldman dispute have prominent backers in
their corners. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Securities
Industry and Financial Markets Association both filed
friend-of-the-court briefs urging the 2nd Circuit to uphold
Goldman's arbitration rights.
The former employees are meanwhile supported by groups
including the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the
National Women's Law Center, the National Employment Lawyers
Association and Public Citizen.
The case is Parisi v. Goldman, Sachs & Co., 2nd U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals, 11-5229.