On February 12, 2017 all 50 state attorneys general sent a signed letter to Congress demanding that victims of sexual harassment are allowed to have their day in court by ending the practice of mandatory arbitration. Spurred on by the Me Too movement, it is the first time in over a decade they have taken action together.
A controversial practice
Mandatory arbitration is a controversial practice wherein businesses require employees to arbitrate legal disputes instead of taking the dispute to court. The practice is controversial because it prevents the employee from going to court and obtaining public justice. Arbitration is favored by companies because the settlements are smaller and cases remain out of the public eye.
A cycle of silence is created
When cases are kept secret, victims feel isolated and they have no knowledge that someone else experienced a similar harassment situation. The problem is allowed to continue since the arbitration process generally protects the perpetrator. It is important to note the letter sent to Congress only demanded the end of mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment cases. Other cases involving discrimination and wage disputes would still be arbitrated in private.
Barring access from the courts
A study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that more than 55 percent of private sector employees are subject to mandatory arbitration. The percentage equals over 60 million workers, who are barred from taking their claim to court when their rights are violated. Often employers also include clauses that bar employees from participating in class action lawsuits as well, leaving little room for legal recourse.
While the letter to Congress is the first step towards greater worker protections, employees suffer injustices from employers every day. Employees facing workplace harassment should follow the reporting policies laid out by the employer. It is always best to first attempt to work with the company’s human resources department. Following the company protocols ensures the basic groundwork for a legal complaint is in place. After filing a complaint the victim should contact an experienced employment law attorney to discuss the next steps to take.