Victims of sexual assault and harassment may soon be freed from workplace restrictions that limit their ability to file complaints in court.
A bill expected to be introduced in the House on Monday would lift arbitration requirements for victims of sexual misconduct that force such disputes to be dealt with outside of the courtroom.
“The #MeToo movement has shaken the culture of secrecy that protects predators and silences survivors — but ending mandatory arbitration has the power to bring it all down,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos, Democrat. ‘Illinois who sponsored the bill.
The legislation, named the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, received bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
Arbitration clauses or agreements currently require employees or consumers who have a dispute with a company with which they have signed an agreement to resolve their dispute through arbitration rather than in court.
Clauses can be inserted into a variety of corporate agreements, including cell phone contracts and new employee hire forms.
The bill enjoys bipartisan support, with lawmakers arguing that the arbitration process helps sweep sexual misconduct under the rug and silence the voices of victims.
“This legislation not only gives victims the freedom to choose the best legal avenue to pursue their rights, it also puts employers on notice that these crimes can no longer be ignored,” said Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican of Colorado, who co-sponsor the bill.
Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, a strong supporter of the bill, spoke about her own experience of how arbitration prevented her from suing the late CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment.
Ms Carlson later ended up suing Mr Ailes under New Jersey Civil Rights Law, which was followed by other women bringing similar allegations against the media mogul.
“I told my children and my family that this would be my greatest personal achievement in life,” Ms Carlson said ahead of the bill’s passage. “It will be a victory for American workers and I am incredibly optimistic that it will be the law of the land.”
Critics of the bill, however, suggest it would limit options for victims who do not want to deal with sexual misconduct cases in open court.
“If the parties cannot agree to arbitration in advance, plaintiffs may never have access to arbitration,” Rep. Michelle Fischbach, a Republican from Minnesota, told a committee hearing. period earlier this month.
The bill would limit the removal of arbitration to sexual harassment and assault cases only, and allow third-party settlement as an option for other disputes.