Bibb County school board members and former Superintendent Romain Dallemand are girding for their clash about an alleged breach of contract.
This month, Dallemand filed a claim with the American Arbitration Association, seeking $10 million from the school district. He contends that board members “flagrantly and intentionally” violated portions of his severance agreement. That agreement paid him $350,000, with language that board members released him of “all claims, known and unknown” and not “disparage or impugn” his work or reputation.
Unlike a lawsuit, which is resolved in a courtroom in front of a judge or jury, an arbitration is a mechanism to resolve a contractual dispute, and it can be legally binding.
But it has many of the same trappings that you’d find in a court case.
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Board members declined to comment on the status of the arbitration, saying the matter involved pending litigation.
Michael Clark, vice president of public relations for the arbitration association, explained how arbitration works.
The seven-step process starts with a filing. Once the other party responds to the claim, the matter moves to arbitrator selection, and both parties must agree on the mediator.
“The arbitrator then schedules out the arbitration process with the parties on a conference call,” said Charles Dorsey, the association’s labor and employment case management director.
Dorsey, who is based out of the association’s Atlanta office, said there’s a preliminary hearing, which is then followed by an information exchange -- similar to a pretrial discovery process. Then there’s another round of hearings.
Each party can then file post-hearing submissions for the arbitrator, who then decides on a resolution.
“An arbitrator has the authority to grant any remedy and award that is available to be granted in court as well,” Dorsey said.
Former Bibb County Superior Court Judge Bryant Culpepper, who has been an arbitrator and mediator for the past seven years, said an arbitrator acts like a “private judge.”
He added that the bill for an arbitration can add up quickly. Some arbitrators charge up to $700 an hour. Depending on the case, either party could have to foot the bill for the cost of the arbitration.
“Arbitrations can be sort of a streamlined dispute resolution process,” Culpepper said. “That’s what they were originally designed to be. But now, arbitrations have gotten in recent years almost as much or more expensive and time consuming as a jury trial would be.”
But there’s also another important difference in arbitration and a lawsuit, Culpepper noted. “There’s not much of an appeal generally available in an arbitration case,” he said.
Despite the lack of appeal options, though, Dorsey said either side can file a counterclaim.
To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382.