Forced Arbitration in Harassment Cases Next Target for Congress

Forced arbitration agreements in cases of sexual harassment on the job would be a thing of the past under legislation from a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Critics say the deals protect harassers and silence their victims.

Photographer: Anthony Lanzilote/Bloomberg

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) will introduce a bill today to ban employers from forcing workers to sign agreements that require them to fight harassment cases in front of private judges and prevent them from talking about the allegations in public. Republicans have also co-sponsored the measure including Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Reps. Walter Jones (N.C.) and Elise Stefanik (N.Y.).

The legislation comes as a wave of sexual harassment allegations against public figures has brought renewed scrutiny to forced arbitration and confidentiality agreements. Businesses and others often use the agreements to cut litigation costs and avoid public attention, but worker advocates say the deals shield harassers and make it harder for victims to get justice.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether to scrap arbitration agreements that preclude workers from suing their bosses in class or collective actions. The justices are likely to rule on a pair of cases involving the issue next year.

Gretchen Carlson, a Fox News anchor who says she was fired for refusing former news chief Roger Ailes’ sexual advances, is also supporting the bill.