May 24, 2018
Victims of sexual misconduct at their places of employment who wished to band together to sue their employers have been prevented from doing so by arbitration clauses in their employment contracts. It is estimated that more than 25 million people currently work under such restrictions. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this month that employers had the right to prevent employees from taking their disputes into the court system for resolution through class action lawsuits or other collective action. It will now be up to legislators at the state and federal levels to enact laws restricting arbitration clauses.
Supreme Court upholds arbitration clauses
Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis involved a claim that a mandatory arbitration clause in an employment contract violated federal laws allowing workers to join together to redress complaints against their employers. The employees, in this case, claimed the arbitration clauses were being used to prevent workers from using the courts collectively as a group to resolve their disputes against their employer instead of being forced into separate arbitration proceedings for each employee.
The Court based its decision to uphold an employer’s right to arbitration on federal laws encouraging its use as an alternative to the court system for resolving disputes. Using private proceedings to settle differences reduces the number of cases making their way into and clogging an already overburdened system is the theory under which mandatory arbitration first gained popularity.
Arbitration silences victims of sexual misconduct
The use of arbitration clauses in employment contracts to silence the victims of workplace sexual harassment has been the basis for former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson’s campaign to get Congress to enact legislation prohibiting businesses from using arbitration clauses in cases of sexual misconduct and harassment to shield themselves from public scrutiny. Ms. Carlson was prevented by an arbitration clause in her employment contract from suing her employer, Fox News, for sexual harassment she claimed to have been subjected to while employed by the network. The arbitration clause prevented her from suing the corporation, but her attorney filed a lawsuit against Roger Ailes, the CEO, and chairman of the network.
The strategy allowed Ms. Carlson to speak out publicly about the sexual harassment which then caused other Fox News personnel to come forward with similar complaints. Her campaign for federal and state laws restricting the use of arbitration clauses has drawn support in Congress where a bill has been introduced allowing employers to continue to include mandatory arbitration clauses in their employment contracts, but it would prohibit enforcement in cases involving claims by employees subjected to workplace harassment.
There is also a bill pending in the California legislature to restrict the use of arbitration. The measure would prohibit employers from forcing employees complaining of sexual harassment and other forms of gender discrimination into arbitration. Instead, victims would be free to have their claims resolved in the public forum of the court system.
Victims need experienced legal counsel
These recent developments highlight the need for aggressive and innovative legal team to protect the right of victims to be compensated for sexual abuse and other forms of gender discrimination in the workplace. The Cifarelli Law Firm, LLP, focuses its practice on personal injury and pursuing claims for compensation by the victims of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the workplace. Its attorneys have an unsurpassed record of success fighting on behalf of the victims of sexual abuse, harassment and sexual misconduct for more than 25 years. Contact us today by calling (949) 502-8600 or use the form on our website to schedule a free and confidential consultation.