Sanjana Manjeshwar is a senior majoring in Legal Studies and Sociology. Her research interests include workers' rights and access to justice. At Berkeley, she has worked as a research assistant at the Othering & Belonging Institute, the UC Berkeley Labor Center, and Berkeley Law's Civil Justice Research Initiative. Sanjana is an intern at the Impact Fund, a legal nonprofit in Berkeley, and previously interned for the Oakland Mayor's Office. She also writes for the Berkeley Political Review and the Daily Californian.
Research: Mandatory arbitration agreements, hidden in the fine print of many employment and consumer contracts, require people to waive their right to sue a business in court. Workers and consumers who have signed these agreements must instead address disputes with businesses through arbitration: a form of private alternative dispute resolution. Most mandatory arbitration agreements also contain class and collective action waivers. People who are subject to these agreements are banned from bringing class action lawsuits with other similarly affected workers or consumers and must pursue their claims individually. Almost everyone has unknowingly agreed to a mandatory arbitration clause at some point—for example, when opening a credit card, buying a cell phone, purchasing health insurance, or signing paperwork for a new job. Despite the term "arbitration agreement," the vast majority of people do not knowingly "agree" to these clauses, which consist of complex legal jargon buried in the terms and conditions of contracts. My research focuses on mandatory arbitration agreements between employers and workers, which are widespread. Over 60 million American workers are subject to mandatory arbitration agreements and cannot hold their employers accountable in court. Mandatory arbitration is especially common in industries with large amounts of low-wage workers, female workers, and Black workers. As a result of mandatory arbitration agreements, many workers' rights violations—including wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and identity-based discrimination—go unremedied because workers are unable to seek justice through the legal system. Mandatory arbitration agreements can replicate existing social and economic inequalities, particularly when workers are banned from bringing class actions. My research will investigate how people understand mandatory arbitration clauses and class action waivers in employment contracts. Existing research mostly focuses on analyzing the extent to which mandatory arbitration clauses are included in employment contracts or comparing outcomes in arbitration and litigation. There is not a lot of research on whether, and how, workers understand what they are agreeing to in the first place. Through a survey experiment in which respondents are asked to read a hypothetical employment contract containing a mandatory arbitration agreement and class action waiver, I will examine (1) how, and to what extent, people are aware of the effects of mandatory arbitration agreements; (2) what people know about arbitration; (3) how people feel about mandatory arbitration in employment; and (4) whether peoples' perspectives on mandatory arbitration agreements differ based on their demographic characteristics. I will additionally examine whether the clarity and accessibility of the language in a mandatory arbitration clause affects peoples' understandings of and opinions towards mandatory arbitration. I anticipate that my findings will cast doubt on whether workers knowingly "agree" to give up their right to sue their employer, which will provide insight on how mandatory arbitration agreements and class action waivers can entrench the unequal power dynamics between workers and employers.
Major(s): Legal Studies, Sociology