An important, bipartisan bill is taking on sexual harassment
In early December, a group of lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill to end forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-N.Y.) joined forces with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to support the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act, which aims to eliminate corporate policies that allow companies to silence victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. A companion bill was also introduced in the House by Representative Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois).
Approximately 60 million Americans are estimated to have mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts — clauses many don’t even know exist until an incident has already occurred at work and they attempt to seek justice. Mandatory arbitration prohibits victims of workplace sexual harassment from bringing their cases to courts, instead requiring them to resolve the case internally. Such policies often result in sexual harassers receiving little more than a slap on the wrist — minimal repercussions that in turn allow sexual harassment to fester in the workplace.
Forced arbitration policies, Senator Gillibrand stated in a press release about the bill, often result in the sexually harassed worker ending up in “a secret meeting with their employer [trying] 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.”
“To expect change without pushing for change is unrealistic,” Senator Graham added in the same statement. “Ensuring that sexual harassment and assault claims cannot be negotiated away before they occur will create incentives to change the workplace environment, making it less hostile and more respectful.”
This bill comes in the midst of the ongoing #MeToo campaign, which has given a platform for victims of sexual assault and harassment to come forward and share their experiences. This bill has also been championed by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who fought forced arbitration in a particularly high-profile way after she accused her boss Roger Ailes, Fox News CEO, of sexual harassment and discrimination. Carlson began speaking out openly, not about her experience with Ailes himself, as that is still blocked by a non-disclosure agreement, but about the need for women to stand up against a system that consistently protects harassers. Carlson truly exemplifies how bipartisan the support for the #MeToo movement is. Victims of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace are truly fed up with these injustices and are ready for some concrete change.
While some predict that the bill will meet little opposition and become law some time this year, other rumor that some lawmakers may take issue with the way the bill is written — specifically the paltry, indirect way it handles the actions of sexual harassment and assault themselves. While the bill has not been publicly released yet, it has been reported that the bill would void all mandatory arbitration agreements instead of only those that pertain to sexual harassment or assault.
In the last year, the partisan divisions in the United States have become more apparent and even more stratified. However, in this time of division, people across the U.S. can agree that the current system for addressing sexual harassment must be changed. This pervasive issue affects everyone, regardless of political associations, and we are ready to reform both the legislation and culture that is connected to it. This legislation is an important first step.
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