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A great article from LWV Clark County

Updated: Jun 29


A role that requires objectivity

Member Sandra Gangle shares insights into the field of law and her role as a labor arbitrator


Of the many memories member Sandra Gangle details in “Madam Arbitrator,” her recently released memoir, one moment stands out as perhaps the most influential in her life.

Eight years old, Gangle was sitting in a courtroom in Brockton, Massachusetts, listening as the judge and lawyers handling her parents’ divorce discussed her custody and support.

“All of the judges and the lawyers were men,” recalls Gangle, now 77. “And none of them were listening to my mom. So, I spoke up and said I will be a lawyer someday.”

Gangle did become a lawyer, practicing for 37 years in the Salem, Oregon, area, focusing primarily on workplace discrimination. Then, in the final decade of her career, after beating breast cancer and undergoing three joint-replacement surgeries, Gangle returned to work, and became a highly regarded arbitrator, issuing decisions in labor contract disputes throughout the Pacific Northwest.

She joined the Clark County League in 2018, shortly after she and her husband, Eugene, moved to Camas.

Gangle recalls many more stories and insights about her career in “Madame Arbitrator,” published in March by Luminare Press. The book is available on Amazon in paperback for $16.95 and as an e-book on Kindle for $7.99.

She began writing her book in 2004, setting it aside when her arbitration work became demanding. When she retired in 2017, two factors prompted Gangle to return to it. “On a personal note, I wanted my family and friends to know about my career as a lawyer and arbitrator and how I dealt with sex discrimination along the way,” she said. “I wanted to share with my readers the difficulty I experienced with the legal profession in its dealing with women, in spite of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

Gangle was propelled to finish the book by what sees as worsening wage inequities between men and women and between unionized and non-unionized workers. She attributes the inequity to corporations’ growing power as unions’ workplace presence fades.

After practicing employment discrimination law and arbitrating approximately 250 contract disputes for the United States Postal Service, Gangle taught employment law and arbitration courses at Portland State University. Then she was qualified to be a full-time labor arbitrator.

“When I serve as an arbitrator, I am not biased in favor of unions or management,” she explained. “An arbitrator serves as a judge, taking evidence, taking testimony and then having to implement an appropriate remedy to resolve the dispute at hand.”

It’s a role that requires objectivity, she stressed. “You have to be fair and balanced in your views,” she explained. “If either of the parties sees evidence of bias in your handling of their case, you’ll never get another case.”

In her book, Gangle describes many of the issues she decided in her cases, including discipline, discharge and contract interpretation matters. She also explains her research articles that were published in professional journals.

Gangle said when she was considering a career, her high school counselor directed her away from law. It was 1960, and women worked as secretaries, teachers and nurses. “My counselor told me if I pursued law there would be no jobs for me. And so I became a foreign language teacher, which was a wonderful career for me for more than 12 years.”

Programs made possible by the National Defense Education Act enabled Gangle to become an expert in audio-lingual teaching of French and English as a Second Language. She came West to the University of Oregon in 1966 on a teaching assistantship for her master’s, and then taught French at Oregon State University.

But law continued to intrigue her, and in 1977 she enrolled at Willamette University College of Law, where about one in five students was a woman. Most were over 30. Some, including Gangle, were mothers. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it possible.

After graduation, she began as a solo practitioner before becoming a partner in a Salem-area firm. “I practiced discrimination law, representing employees who were allegedly discriminated against on the basis of gender, race, age and disability. I also did land use work, wrote wills and handled probate estates for 20 years before becoming a fulltime labor arbitrator.”

Gangle explained that no formal training program or degree in arbitration exists. “You just have to learn from an expert,” and her clerkship during law school with Carlton Snow, a professor who had a private practice as an arbitrator, provided that. When she became a fulltime arbitrator, she was qualified in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Montana and California.

The objectivity required for an arbitrator is similar to League’s approach to dealing with issues, said Gangle, who served as a board member, president and chair of a foreign policy study group in the Marion-Polk League. She was also an Oregon State League board member from 20007-10. “I’ve always appreciated League’s process in conducting studies. You analyze facts, write and interview parties when you do a study. So my League work was the best way for me to do public service,” she noted. In 2013, she chaired a Marion-Polk County transportation study.

In Clark County, Gangle has participated in League’s Civics Education efforts through the Clark College Mature Learning program, presenting on constitutional provisions that created the legislative, executive and judicial branches and on amendments pertaining to abolishing slavery and voting rights.

After moving to Camas, Gangle also founded a local chapter of the national Great Decisions foreign policy discussion group. Great Discussions is sponsored by the Foreign Policy Association, whose mission is help people develop awareness, understanding, and informed opinion on U.S. foreign policy and global issues through nonpartisan programs and publications. Several LWVCC members, including Nancy Halvorson and Molly Coston, participate in her Great Discussions group. “The goal is knowing the real story about what’s going on in the world and figuring out how do we promote good foreign policy,” she told a Camas-Washougal Post-Record reporter in January 2018.

Gangle and her husband, who is a retired high school teacher, have two grown children – son Rocco, a philosophy professor at Endicott College in Massachusetts, and daughter Melanie, the manager of disability services at the University of Portland. The Gangles have a 12-year-old grandson and an 8-year-old granddaughter.

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© 2020 by Sandra Smith Gangle.

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