Congressional Democrats announced a package of bills Thursday that would ban forced arbitration of disputes over employment, consumer and antitrust issues and civil rights disputes.
The bills come as major corporations such as Google Inc. are getting rid of mandatory arbitration for some employment disputes, but it remains to be seen whether the measures will find bipartisan support. Nursing home residents and members of the military also would gain protection under the bills being introduced.
A version of the measure to bar mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment complaints was introduced in both chambers of Congress in 2017, drawing support from Republicans that included Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina. But the Senate and House versions of that bill were never voted out of their respective committees.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, announced the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act, or FAIR, which would end the use of forced arbitration in consumer, worker, civil rights and antitrust disputes.
Blumenthal said at a press conference announcing the legislation Thursday that 140 members of the House and 34 senators have expressed support for FAIR.
“Forced arbitration is unfair, unjust, un-American, because one of the principles of our American democracy is everybody gets their day in court,” he said. “This bill is about affording every individual their day in court.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, and Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, announced the introduction of the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act, which would bar the use of forced arbitration in disputes involving sexual harassment or discrimination. The bill also has a Republican co-sponsor in the house, Elise Stefanik, R-New York.
Former Fox News broadcaster Gretchen Carlson, who received a settlement that was reported to be $20 million after raising sexual harassment claims against the network’s former chairman, Roger Ailes, spoke out in favor of that bill at the press conference. Carlson’s lawyers successfully fought Fox’s efforts to adjudicate her sexual harassment case through arbitration.
“Arbitration is the harasser’s best friend because it silences all of the victims,” Carlson said. A victim of sexual harassment “may get a paltry settlement in arbitration. Then she finds she has no appeals. No one else at her place of employment will know what happened to her. Her perpetrator gets to stay on the job.”
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Reps. Jerome Nadler, D-New York, and Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, announced plans to introduce the Restoring Justice for Workers Act, which bars the use of forced arbitration in employment disputes and ensures the enforcement of workers’ protections under the National Labor Relations Act.
Reps. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, and Mark Takano, D-California, announced plans to introduce the Justice for Servicemembers Act, which ends the use of forced arbitration in cases under the Uniform Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, and the Servicemember Civil Relief Act.
Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-California, announced plans to introduce the Fairness in Long-Term Care Arbitration Act, which would end the use of forced arbitration clauses in nursing home agreements.
The nonprofit liberal advocacy group Public Citizen announced Thursday that it was leading a coalition of 60 organizations that supported passage of FAIR. They include American Association of University Women, Communications Workers of America, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women and the National Employment Lawyers Association.