Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal joined Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, along with former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson and a bipartisan group of members of Congress, to announce legislation to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017 would void forced arbitration agreements that prevent sexual harassment survivors from getting the justice they deserve. Carlson, who previously hosted “Fox & Friends,” left the network after enduring years of sexual harassment by powerful men who used forced arbitration to institutionalize protections for sexual harassers, and prevent survivors from discussing their cases and taking them to trial.
Today, an estimated 60 million Americans are subject to forced arbitration clauses. The bipartisan, bicameral bill that Gillibrand, Bustos, Jayapal and Carlson announced would void forced arbitration agreements and allow survivors of sexual harassment or discrimination to seek justice, discuss their cases publicly, and eliminate institutional protection for harassers. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and U.S. Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) are co-sponsors of this legislation.
“Mandatory arbitration silences victims. It limits opportunity, protects powerful men and breaks the leadership ladders that we work so hard to build to help marginalized people succeed, in all industries and all political parties. Through this legislation, we are taking the first steps toward changing this deep-seated culture of sexism and silencing,” said Rep. Jayapal. “The bravery of the victims who have come forward cannot go unnoticed. For them – and for all people who experience harassment – we must act on this moment and end the mandatory arbitration process.”
“If we truly want to end sexual harassment in the workplace, we need to eliminate the institutionalized protections that have allowed this unacceptable behavior to continue for too long,” Congresswoman Bustos said. “Whether it’s on factory floors, in office buildings or retail businesses, 60 million Americans have signed away their right to seek real justice and most don’t realize it until they try to get help. Our legislation is very straightforward and simple – if you have been subjected to sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace, we think you – not the employer – should have the right to choose to go to court. While there are a lot of good companies that take sexual harassment seriously and work to prevent it, this legislation will help root out bad actors by preventing them from sweeping this problem under the rug.”
“When a company has a forced arbitration policy, it means that if a worker is sexually harassed or sexually assaulted in the workplace, they are not allowed to go to court over it; instead, they have to go into a secret meeting with their employer and try to work out some kind of deal that really only protects the predator. They are forbidden from talking about what happened, and then they are expected to keep doing their job as if nothing happened to them. No worker should have to put up with such an unfair system,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I am proud to lead this bipartisan legislation to finally get rid of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace, and I urge all of my colleagues to join our effort, take this problem seriously and support this important bipartisan bill.”
“Forced arbitration is a harasser’s best friend,” said Gretchen Carlson. “It keeps harassment complaints and settlements secret. It allows harassers to stay in their jobs, even as victims are pushed out or fired. It silences other victims who may have stepped forward if they’d known. It’s time we as a nation – together – in bipartisan fashion give a voice back to victims.”
“It is only fair and right that victims have the legal option to pursue charges if harassed in the workplace,” said Congressman Jones. “It is time we give them their day in court.”
“Story after story continues to come forward detailing shocking realities about the pervasiveness of workplace sexual harassment,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “I share the outrage of Americans across our nation at these revelations, and commend the brave men and women who have stepped forward to shine a light on this epidemic. This bill will help protect victims by giving them the opportunity to come forward publicly and have their stories heard. And by shedding light on these crimes and their perpetrators, this bill will also help prevent these disgusting crimes from ever taking place. As policy makers, it’s time for us to join together and put an end to sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.”
“As a condition of employment, Uber required me to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement that prohibited me from ever being able to take them to court,” said Susan Fowler, who took on Uber for sexual harassment in the workplace. “While I worked there, I experienced and witnessed sexual harassment and gender discrimination, as did many of my coworkers. The culture of harassment and discrimination was systemic at Uber, and was kept hidden from the public because Uber’s use of mandatory arbitration forced employees to keep silent about their mistreatment. In order to bring public attention to Uber’s toxic culture and force it to change, I had to risk my career, my reputation and the personal safety of myself and my family by becoming a public whistleblower. Ending mandatory arbitration is the single most important thing that we can do to end sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace. The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act will prevent companies like Uber from forcing their employees into secretive, private arbitration in the cases of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace. It will give a voice to victims of harassment and discrimination who have been silenced, allowing them to hold abusive workplaces publicly accountable for their actions.”
Forced arbitration clauses prevent survivors of sexual harassment from discussing the nature or basis of their complaint. If an employee’s contract or employee handbook includes a forced arbitration clause, the employee is likely to have signed away his or her right to a jury trial whether or not they are aware of the clause. Employees are far more likely to win cases that go to trial than cases that go through the arbitration process.