More than 60 million American workers are about to be freed from forced arbitration clauses that prevent them from filing sexual harassment and sexual assault claims against their employers.
The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, which will become law once it reaches President Joe Biden’s desk, represents one of the federal government’s biggest workplace reforms in decades by allowing victims of sexual misconduct to pursue justice in open court rather than closed-door, costly arbitration proceedings that employers have long used as the go-to venue in these types of cases.
The bill gives sexual misconduct victims the option of bringing the dispute to federal, tribal or state court.
Arbitration clauses are particularly prevalent in low-wage fields with an exceptionally high proportion of women of color, another co-sponsor, New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told CNN. “These clauses leave those women who cannot afford to challenge their employers without any recourse,” she said.
Besides being costly and secretive, arbitration does not have the option of appeal.
“The arbitration system is fairly skewed toward the company, and to take a job I don’t think you should be required to give up your day in court if you claim something untoward happened to you,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who co-sponsored the bill, told CNN.
The bill was originally introduced four years ago as the #MeToo movement was gaining momentum.
Once signed into law by President Biden, the legislation will nullify any forced arbitration clauses in current employment contracts related to sexual assault or sexual harassment. Employers will be prohibited from writing such clauses into future contracts.
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