WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday gave victims of sexual assault or workplace harassment the right to go to court rather than resort to forced arbitration.
Biden signed into law the Ending Forced Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Arbitration Act, which prohibits employment contracts from requiring people to settle claims of sexual assault or harassment through an arbitration process. private arbitration rather than in court.
Employers often benefit from the process, which prevents allegations of misconduct from becoming public.
The law is retroactive, freeing individuals who have been bound by arbitration language to take legal action against their harassers.
Biden called it “a momentous day for justice and fairness in the workplace.”
“To those who have been victims of harassment or sexual assault, you will have the right today that you did not have yesterday,” the president said.
An estimated 60 million workers are bound by forced arbitration clauses slipped into their employment contracts, many of whom are unaware of the language’s existence, Biden said. Private arbitration prevents them from knowing who else may have suffered similar indignities.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the widespread practice has been criticized for forcing employees to seek a non-jury appeal, a chance to appeal an arbitrator’s decision or the sunlight of a public legal process.
Biden said giving employers absolute power to decide how complaints of sexual assault or harassment are resolved is not how justice is supposed to work.
“Some survivors will want to spend their day in court, and that should be their choice and no one else’s choice,” Biden said at a White House ceremony where he signed the bill.
Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who accused the network’s late CEO Roger Ailes of making unwanted advances and damaging his career when she rejected him, testified before Congress in favor of the bill. Some employee contracts at Fox included binding arbitration clauses.
Carlson said the law is a great way to kick off Women’s History Month.
“Everyone will know that women’s voices can be heard,” she told the White House.
Advocates of the arbitration process, including business groups, argue that it is a faster and cheaper way to resolve disputes than through lengthy court proceedings.
The legislation enjoyed broad bipartisan support in a divided Congress, allowing the Senate to pass it by unanimous consent – a procedure almost never used for significant legislation, especially one that affects tens of millions of people. . The House passed Bill 335-97 in February.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., which has focused on combating sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the military, originally introduced the bill in 2017 with Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C .
Associated Press writer Michelle Price in New York contributed to this report.
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