Senate passes bill that would ban forced arbitration in sexual misconduct cases

Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other tech companies have ended the practice in recent years.

Brendan McDermid / reuters

The Senate today approved legislation that would keep companies from requiring forced arbitration in cases of sexual misconduct or harassment. The passage is a significant victory for the #MeToo movement, essentially allowing millions of women to take workplace sexual misconduct cases to court rather than settling matters internally. The legislation, which passed unanimously on Thursday, is now headed to President Joe Biden’s desk for a signature.

“No longer will survivors of sexual assault or harassment in the workplace come forward and be told that they are legally forbidden to sue their employer because somewhere in buried their employment contracts was this forced arbitration clause," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in a news conference. Gillibrand, a vocal champion in the realm of sexual harassment law, authored the bill along with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC).

Notably, the bill had unanimous support among both Republicans and Democrats in Congress; a rare feat in this current political climate. As Politico notes, many GOP lawmakers have warmed up to the issue of workplace sexual harassment following a surge of interest in the #MeToo movement. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson even urged Republican lawmakers to support the bill.

Many companies have forced arbitration clauses in their employment contracts, which requires employees to give up their right to appear in court if they are harmed by their employer. Instead, the worker and the employer must settle the disputes in a process known as arbitration, which is often private and run by a third party.

More public awareness of the male-dominated, sexist culture in Silicon Valley, as well as activism by employees, has forced many tech companies to re-evaluate their sexual harassment policies. A number of Big Tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft have ended forced arbitration in recent years after facing backlash. Major video game developers such as Riot Games and Activision Blizzard have followed suit. Microsoft even lobbied in support of legislation to end forced arbitration.

Many in favor of forced arbitration believe it allows companies and employees to save money on court costs. But proponents of the practice argue that it inherently benefits the perpetrator, basically barring plaintiffs from speaking publicly about workplace harassment and keeping any testimony, evidence or documents used in the arbitration process completely secret.

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