Congress has passed landmark legislation that guarantees victims of sexual harassment in the workplace can seek resource in courts.
It’s a huge milestone for the #MeToo movement and for women’s rights advocates. The bill, the Ending Forced Arbitration Act, passed in Congress with overwhelming and rare bipartisan support.
Congress gave its final approval to the legislation, and it is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden soon.
The #MeToo movement prompted a national reckoning on how sexual harassment and assault claims in the workplace are handled.
The new legislation will bar employment contracts from forcing people to settle cases around sexual harassment and assault through arbitration rather than being able to have their day in court, if that is what they want.
The process has tended to benefit the employers and the accused. It kept allegations quiet and prevented them from becoming public. If the victim did not settle in arbitration, it would typically wind up in a private court, where employers were likely to win.
Some businesses have moved away from forced arbitration, but the practice has remained popular, especially in big companies.
The bill is retroactive, therefore nullifying language in contracts across the United States. It will open the door for people who have been silenced and bound by their contracts to not be able to take legal action. It is estimated that 60 million Americans have clauses tucked into their contracts that will force them to settle sexual assault and misconduct allegations in private proceedings.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has spearheaded the push for legal change. She called it one of the most significant workplace reforms in U.S. history.
Gillibrand said that the forced arbitration process was biased and secretive, and it ultimately denied people a constitutional right: their day in court.
Gillibrand first introduced the legislation in 2017 with Senator Lindsey Graham, making it an uncommonly bipartisan legislation with rare broad support. It was passed this week with one of the most bipartisan votes in a long time in the deeply divided Congress, passing 335 to 97.