Today, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced the Senate passage of the bipartisan Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, legislation that will prevent perpetrators from being able to push survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault into the secretive, biased process of forced arbitration. The legislation would invalidate existing forced arbitration clauses that prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment survivors from seeking justice and public accountability under the laws meant to protect them. Following the passage, the senators held a press conference celebrating the landmark bill with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and former Fox News anchor and advocate Gretchen Carlson.
Senator Gillibrand first introduced the bill in 2017 and reintroduced it last year alongside her Senate co-lead, Senator Lindsey Graham, House lead Representative Cheri Bustos, and Gretchen Carlson. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill unanimously this past fall and it has wide, bipartisan support in the Senate, with ten Republican cosponsors, as well as in the House.
“I am thrilled to announce that the historic Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act has passed the Senate and is now headed to President Biden’s desk. This bill is one of the most significant workplace reforms in the last 50 years and is a major step forward toward changing a system that uses secrecy to protect perpetrators and silence survivors,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act will void existing forced arbitration agreements for sexual harassment and sexual assault and end their use. It will give survivors their day in court, allow them to discuss their cases publicly and end the days of institutional protection for harassers.”
“I’m very pleased the Senate has now joined the House of Representatives in passing this important legislation and sending it to President Biden’s desk to sign into law. The days of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases being buried in unfair arbitration clauses are now over,” said Senator Lindsey Graham. “For far too long, many employment contracts required employees to submit to unfair arbitration procedures instead of allowing them the option of pursuing their day in court. These type of agreements had the chilling effect of shielding misconduct from public scrutiny. Today, thanks to the work of my colleague, Senator Gillibrand, who has been a tireless advocate for this important legislation, these types of unfair agreements come to an end.”
The Senate just passed a historic bill to end forced arbitration in sexual assault and harassment cases, one of the most significant changes to employment law in years and one that is painfully overdue,” said Leader Schumer. “For decades, abusers have used arbitration as a shield for their horrific behavior, but today, bipartisan action has been taken to eliminate for good the awful practice of forcing victims of sexual harassment and assault into silence. Today, we are empowering the tens of millions of Americans whose constitutional rights were unwittingly signed away to speak openly and have the option to go to court if they so choose. It is time for victims of sexual harassment and assault to have the freedom to hold abusers accountable and exercise their basic right to pursue justice against harmful employers in court.”
“For survivors of sexual harassment or assault, forced arbitration not only deprives them of their rights to seek accountability, but it requires the misconduct to be concealed from public view. With passage of today’s bill, things are going to change,” Senator Durbin said. “This bill will give survivors of sexual assault and harassment a choice to go to court instead of being forced into arbitration under the fine print of contracts. To the many survivors out there who worked hard to make this day happen, thank you. I’m grateful for your courage and that Congress responded. Your decision to fight for your rights means that other survivors won’t be silenced by forced arbitration ever again.”
“Survivors of sexual assault and harassment deserve to be heard, and they deserve the right to seek justice in the courts. This bipartisan bill prevents employers from sweeping assault or harassment claims under the rug through mandatory arbitration agreements, and prevents unions from negotiating away survivors’ access to the courthouse. While arbitration can serve many important purposes, sexual assault and harassment survivors ought to be able to choose whether to use arbitration or the courts to seek justice. This bill ensures they have that option,” Senator Grassley said.
“Today’s vote means that this historic bipartisan bill will become law once it is signed by the President – protecting millions of people by making their workplaces safer,” said Gretchen Carlson, Co-founder of Lift Our Voices. “Every survivor deserves the right to tell their story, and once this change is enshrined in law, it will give those who experienced assault or harassment in the workplace the right to choose how they seek justice. It will also prevent assault and harassment in the first place, making it known to any would-be predator that their abuse can subject them to litigation and that survivors will have the right to speak out. I am grateful to all who supported this legislation, those who joined as co-sponsors, and especially to the bill’s original lead sponsor, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and initial co-sponsors Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin. Thanks to their support, America’s workplaces will be far safer environments for all.”
Forced arbitration clauses are buried in the fine print of everything from employment agreements and ubiquitous terms and conditions to everyday digital click-through “agreements.” For example, many patients who were sexually assaulted in a nursing home or women pervasively harassed at work are currently unable to tell their story in a public court of law because of forced arbitration.
The bill has been endorsed by American Association for Justice (AAJ), Public Citizen, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Partnership for Women & Families, Futures Without Violence, Jewish Women International, Lift Our Voices, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Network to End Domestic Violence, RAINN, RALIANCE, and Sexual Violence Prevention Association.