Madam Arbitrator provides keen insight into the personal and professional life of Sandra Smith Gangle, one of the Pacific Northwest’s most accomplished labor arbitrators. Interest in this career retrospective will be predictably high among labor historians, law professors, and social scientists. But advocates for labor and management - anyone responsible for winnowing lists of proposed labor arbitrators—are certain to consider Madam Arbitrator as essential reading for its candid review of modern principles of ethical arbitral decision-making for today’s workplace.


The signposts of Ms. Gangle’s professional life pointed with remarkable clarity from her youngest days in the direction neutral dispute resolution. Two indicators, in particular, are significant parts of her story.


First, as a young girl, Ms. Gangle admired the legal skills of a talented Massachusetts lawyer who helped her family through a painful dissolution of marriage and, later, with a serious automobile accident tort claim. The accident case involved a jury trial that produced a successful outcome for Ms. Gangle’s family. She saw firsthand how a talented lawyer could change lives for the better.


Second, during law school in Oregon, Ms. Gangle was mentored by Professor Carlton J. Snow. Professor Snow was a revered law teacher at Willamette University College of Law; he also enjoyed a national reputation as a labor arbitrator. Snow’s lessons—hard work, adherence to ethical principles, and strict neutrality—demonstrated to Ms. Gangle what it would take to pursue a career as a lawyer and labor arbitrator. 


Launching a legal career, however, was no simple task. She declined to join a law firm and, against the advice of her brother, a practicing lawyer, she chose instead to open her own law practice. She candidly reports the good and the bad of that choice. Indeed, there were times when a slight shift of fate could have cost her everything. 

Ms. Gangle’s earliest experiences in the world of labor arbitration opened her eyes to a stark reality: state and federal protections against sex discrimination in the workplace had no practical application to a woman serving as an arbitrator. The familiar but secretive process of striking names from a list of proposed arbitrators could easily result in the removal of a female arbitrator’s name for no reason except the hidden factor of her gender. Responding to this workplace reality, she trusted that her adherence to Professor Snow’s fundamental teachings—especially the necessity of unbiased objectivity—would help her surmount sex discrimination in her chosen field. 


Pulling her audience in, Ms. Gangle reflects on her principal contributions to arbitral decision-making during her career. Labor practitioners will value her effort because, as she notes, many arbitration awards and opinions are confined to the secrecy of the parties’ files and, thus, are unavailable for citation, analysis, and application in later cases. She concludes with her own observations on the factors that continue to undermine fairness in the modern workplace. One is the growing effort to replace genuine arbitration with artificial dispute resolution processes, produced by artificial “waivers” of employee rights, leading to proceedings that cannot justly share the name “arbitration.” It is these views of Madam Arbitrator Gangle that perhaps carry the greatest weight. These are her opinions of the world of work formed after a lifetime in the trenches of arbitration: her candid assessments on full display here but never to appear in an arbitration award.

—Hon. Robert D. Durham, Senior Justice, Oregon Supreme Court