Congress Decides to End Compulsory Arbitration for Sexual Misconduct | Radio WGN 720

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. House has passed legislation banning contracts that require people to settle sexual assault or harassment cases through arbitration rather than a court, a process that often benefits employers and prevents allegations of misconduct to become public.

The measure, passed by a 335-97 vote in the House, reflects a rare bipartisan agreement in Congress that stems from the #MeToo movement that has sparked a nationwide review of how sexual misconduct complaints are handled in the United States. .

“For too long, Americans who have been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted in the workplace have been forced into the shadows, coerced into signing secret arbitration agreements that protect their employers from liability and often shield offenders from any liability,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. statement after Monday’s vote. She said the legislation sends “a clear signal to survivors in our country that they deserve the freedom to seek justice and have their voices heard”.

The Senate is expected to vote on and approve the bill within the next two weeks, sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature.

Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who has pushed the legislation and spoken in the Senate to tackle sexual harassment and assault, said the measure is long overdue, having first been introduced in 2017.

An estimated 60 million U.S. workers have clauses in their employment contracts, Gillibrand said, but she noted the practice isn’t just used in employment contracts. Binding arbitration clauses can be inserted into agreements for other services, preventing lawsuits against nursing homes and massage parlors from residents and patients who claim to have been sexually assaulted.

“I would say very few people realize they’ve accepted that,” the senator said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s not something people read into their employment contracts. It’s in the fine print and even if it’s there and they read it, they don’t even necessarily know what it means.

The widespread practice of including forced arbitration in employment contracts has been criticized in recent years to protect companies and perpetrators, forcing employees to privately settle claims of sexual assault or harassment without a jury and no opportunity to appeal the decision.

Business groups and other arbitration advocates say it’s a faster, cheaper way to resolve disputes.

Gillibrand said many workers don’t realize how binding arbitration can disproportionately benefit employers, with companies typically paying much smaller sums to settle claims than they would in court and being much less incentive to take corrective action, such as firing repeat offenders and changing policies.

The bill would ban clauses from future contracts and also invalidate those clauses in all existing contracts, which Gillibrand says would open the door for people who have lawyers to come forward and pursue claims.

Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who accused the network’s now-deceased CEO Roger Ailes of making unwanted advances and damaging his career when she rejected him, testified in favor of the legislation. Binding arbitration has been used in some network employee contracts.

Some companies, including Facebook, Uber and Microsoft, have themselves decided to end the practice of forced arbitration for sexual misconduct claims.

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