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Victims of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Should Have Access to Courts

Published: Mar 30, 2018 in Sexual Harassment

There’s a good chance that the contract between you and your employer forces you to go through arbitration if you want to make an official complaint regarding sexual harassment in your workplace. According to some estimates, around 60 million Americans are subjected to such arbitration clauses.

If you have questions about your employment contract, contact the Belleville employment lawyers with Cates Mahoney, LLC today at (618) 767-6293.

What is an Arbitration Clause?

Arbitration is a form of dispute resolution that happens outside of the courts, and therefore, out of the public eye. The rules that guide these private proceedings are not the same as in the court system, and may place a single employee at a significant disadvantage when facing a large corporation.

Arbitration clauses are common in many industries and apply to many subjects besides employment disputes. Two parties to a contract about the purchase of goods or services, for example, might agree to save on the expense and time of litigation in court by having any disagreements worked out through arbitration.

Government Lawyers Support a Ban on Arbitration Clauses for Sexual Harassment Claims

In a letter dated February 12, 2018, 56 attorneys general of the United States and its territories urged Congress to move forward on legislation that would end the era of companies protecting abusive employees. They want arbitration clauses for sexual harassment claims to be banned because:

  • They are not an expected part of the employment contract. Arbitration clauses are usually part of the “fine print” the employment contract, which could be dozens of pages long. Many people don’t even know if they are subject to arbitration for sexual harassment claims. An employee is almost never invited to modify the terms of the contract, and the company usually knows that if it can’t get you to sign, it can hire someone else who will.
  • Arbitration does not respect victim’s rights. Victims of sexual harassment deserve to have their claims heard by trained judges in courts of law governed by the procedures set forth by Congress. There is no guarantee that victims will enjoy their rights to procedural and substantive due process when going through arbitration.
  • Arbitration agreements protect bad actors. Arbitration clauses often require that disputes – and their eventual settlements – be kept secret. Thus, many instances of sexual conduct are not known to the public, which has the consequence of protecting bad actors and the companies that employ them.
  • Forced arbitration discourages complaints. The requirement of going through arbitration causes many sexual harassment victims to abandon their pursuit of justice. The culture of silence is maintained when victims fail to report or to seek compensation for misconduct.

Is Congress Going to Step In and Protect Sexual Harassment Victims?

The nation’s top government lawyers agree that victims of sexual harassment are being denied their right to access the judicial system. They’ve urged the nation’s legislators to step in. The question is whether Congress is acting decisively enough to confront the issue.

A bipartisan group of senators and representatives introduced late last year legislation called “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act,” which would prohibit courts from enforcing any portion of an employment contract that requires employees to submit sexual harassment claims to arbitration. Other types of employee complaints, such as wage or hour disputes, may still be settled through arbitration. This could result in some employment disputes being resolved both through arbitration and a court proceeding.

Much like the victims of sexual harassment, the act faces an uphill battle. Only once it passes committee, gets debated, approved through vote, and then signed by the President will the act become law. To date, the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act” has been read twice in Congress and is now sitting with the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

In the meantime, some high profile corporations are taking matters into their own hands. Microsoft Corporation, for example, has announced that it will stop asking its employees to submit their sexual harassment claims to arbitration. According to Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer, “the silencing of voices has helped perpetuate sexual harassment, [so] the country should guarantee that people can go to court to ensure these concerns can always be heard.”

A Knowledgeable Sexual Harassment Attorney Can Help You

At Cates Mahoney, LLC, we are dedicated to helping the victims of workplace sexual harassment to regain their dignity and obtain the compensation they deserve. If you’ve been subjected to offensive conduct at your place of work, call our Belleville sexual harassment lawyers today us today at (618) 767-6293 to schedule your free and confidential consultation.