By Saswat Pattanayak
As a major victory for the #MeToo movement, the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act” has attained rare bipartisan support upon being overwhelmingly passed in both the House and the Senate. It has now been sent to President Biden.
When signed, the new law will void contract agreements in which employees waive their rights to bring sexual assault or harassment lawsuits and instead settle cases with an arbitrator. Arbitration is a secretive dispute resolution process that has traditionally favored employers over workers while at the same time it kept litigations out of the public eye. While arbitration is a common employment conditions, it has allowed corporations to silence survivors.
#MeToo movement has been largely credited with activism around exposing the limits (and the regressive nature) of the process. During the movement, Fox News host Gretchen Carlson put together an extraordinary effort to consolidate support around the bill which found support of Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.).
In her interview with Axios on Wednesday, Kirsten Gillibrand has shed lights on how the bill came to being – “Gretchen Carlson sat down with Lindsay [Graham] to tell him about her experience at Fox News, and I think that was something very important to him.” She said, Graham then approached her about working together on legislation, which they introduced in 2017. According to Axios, Carlson worked closely with Bustos in the House, and Gillibrand and Graham in the Senate, and is credited with bringing some of the 10 Republican co-sponsors — familiar with her from Fox News — on board.
Carlson had not only been blocked from taking Fox News to the court, when she sued Roger Ailes directly, she had to sign a nondisclosure agreement that forbade her from discussing the details. But once passed, the new law will allow workers to discuss allegations of misconduct publicly, contrary to the spirits of forced arbitration agreements.
Politico has quoted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as saying “Mandatory arbitration is a way for giant corporations to squeeze consumers and make sure that they don’t have access to the courts, to exercise their legal rights.” However it is notable to add that the new law shall be covering only matters related to sexual misconducts and harassment, not any other employment related issues.