A new federal law stops companies nationwide from forcing their workers to give up the right to a jury trial on claims of sexual harassment and abuse.
Until now, the trend has been for companies to require that their new hires sign arbitration agreements before they start work. If a worker is then sexually harassed on the job and files a lawsuit in court, the company uses the arbitration agreement the worker had signed to force the lawsuit out of court and into confidential arbitration.
Companies generally prefer arbitration instead of court because of the confidential protection it provides. Whereas lawsuits in courts are open to the public, arbitration is a secret proceeding that is shrouded in confidentiality. And, the decider — an arbitrator, who is usually a former judge or attorney — is not as sympathetic to the worker as a jury of peers. Companies generally win more in arbitration, and when they lose, the damages are often much less than if decided by a jury.
Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act (H.R. 4445)
On, March 3, 2022, President Biden signed into law the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021,” which “invalidates pre-dispute arbitration agreements that preclude a party from filing a lawsuit in court involving sexual assault or sexual harassment….”
The legislation came with bipartisan support. On February 7, 2022, the House of Representatives agreed to it on a 335 to 97 margin; three days later, the Senate approved it without amendment on a voice vote.
At the signing, Vice President Harris explained the importance of the new law:
Forced arbitration silences survivors of sexual assault and harassment. It shields predators instead of holding them accountable and gives corporations a powerful tool to hide abuse and misconduct. And it compels the people of our nation — and most often the women of our nation — to sign away one of their most fundamental rights: the right to seek justice in court.
The legislation … will end forced arbitration in all cases of sexual abuse. And — and almost equally as important, it will apply retroactively — invalidating every one of these agreements, no matter when they were entered into.
Food Service Workers Regain Access To Courts
According to an analysis of filed claims, the highest prevalence of sexual harassment is in the food service industry. During the same time, arbitration agreements eroded away at the ability of food service workers to file sexual harassment claims in court.
Now, these (and all American) workers have regained the undeniable right to have sexual harassment cases decided in court.