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Use of Arbitration Expected to Rise in Wake of California Ruling


More than a quarter of California companies require employees to sign arbitration agreements, and that number is expected to grow in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision that sets strict rules for such contracts.

While the court decision created new protections for workers, employers said Friday that it also clarifies complex and sometimes conflicting rules that surround arbitration agreements.

“It’s a big bonus for employers,” said Larry J. Shapiro, an attorney and publisher of the California Employee Advisor, a legal newsletter. “It’s given the green light to use (arbitration agreements) in California.”

Thursday’s court ruling also is expected to force many ongoing arbitration cases into court to work out compliance. The opinion, widely hailed as a boost for worker rights, said arbitration agreements may not put limits on monetary awards, and employees in search of evidence have the right to compel employers to turn over documents. The new rule also requires arbitrators to issue written opinions, and it forces employers to pick up the tab for arbitration.

“This is a wonderful and long-awaited decision, at least from the perspective of the employers, who are taking a progressive view of arbitration,” said Tom Makris, a Sacramento-based attorney with Pillsbury Madison & Sutro and who heads legislative affairs for the Northern California Human Resources Association.

“This decision sets the ground rules and does it fairly,” he said. “From the employee perspective I think it’s also a good decision. Arbitration is a quicker way to resolve disputes. The ruling gives employees full rights to all of the remedies they would have in court.”

Clinton Program Meant To Improve Bank Access for Poor Disappoints


A Clinton administration program designed to prod banks into offering no-frills accounts to the poor has signed up just 700 people nationwide during its first year of operation, a disappointingly slow start to those who hoped the program would rescue families from high-cost check-cashers.

The federally subsidized Electronic Transfer Accounts were supposed to draw about 6 million low-income Americans into the mainstream financial industry by paying U.S. banks $12.60 for each new participant they attracted.

But a year after the much-hyped accounts were introduced, only one major U.S. bank -- Wells Fargo -- has begun offering them, and only in certain states.

With just 700 accounts nationwide, the federal program serves fewer low-income families than a single check-cashing outlet in South-Central Los Angeles, or about one-tenth of 1 percent of its potential market.

Bankers have been slow to embrace ETAs because they fear the accounts will be unprofitable and risky, despite the federal subsidy. For one thing, banks are required to accept applicants even if they have bounced checks at other institutions -- a requirement the banks say leaves them vulnerable to fraud.

Suit Filed in Austria to Recover Nazi-Confiscated Paintings


A west Los Angeles woman sued the Austrian government in federal court here this week seeking to recover six paintings by Gustav Klimt that she alleges have been improperly held ever since Austrian Nazis seized them from her uncle in 1939.

The paintings being sought by Maria Altmann, 84, are in the government-run Austrian Gallery in Vienna and are worth about $150 million, according to an Austrian art expert in New York.

One of the works, a full-length gold painting of Altmann’s deceased aunt, the prominent art collector Adele Bloch-Bauer, is considered one of Klimt’s two best-known paintings and is valued in the range of $50 million to $60 million.

“Since the revelation two years ago that these paintings were illegally withheld from Mrs. Altmann after (World War II), we have attempted to negotiate with the Austrian government for their return,” said Altmann’s attorney, E. Randol Schoenberg of Los Angeles. “But all our efforts were rebuffed and we were given no other option but to file a lawsuit.”

Werner Brandstetter, the Austrian consul general in Los Angeles, said that a special commission set up by the Education and Culture Ministry in Austria had concluded that while the Altmanns were entitled to recover some pieces of art, they did not have a valid claim to the Bloch-Bauer portrait or the other five paintings at issue in the suit.

Estrogen Level In Elderly Women Linked With Memory Retention


Women 65 and older with relatively high levels of estrogen in their blood are less likely to suffer memory loss and other characteristics of cognitive decline, according to new research to be reported Saturday.

Writing in the British medical journal The Lancet, Dr. Kristine Yaffe and a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, say they think specific types of estrogen play a role in keeping cognitive function intact.

Moreover, Yaffe said, having high levels of estrogen, particularly the form of estrogen known as estradiol, does not necessarily mean having the estrogen levels of a 25-year-old.

“High is actually not that high, not as high as in young pre-menopausal women, which is why this is so interesting,” said Yaffe, an assistant professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology.

“It may be that we don’t need to have such high levels, but levels that still would be protective against cognitive decline,” Yaffe said.