Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Photo: J. Albert Diaz/ALM

Attorneys general from every state and U.S. territory formed a coalition to urge lawmakers to end secret, forced arbitration in cases of workplace sexual harassment.

All 56 U.S. attorneys general signed a letter issued Monday to leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. They urged lawmakers to pass federal legislation giving victims of workplace sexual harassment access to the judicial system, instead of limiting them to employment contracts mandating alternative dispute resolution.

“Specifically, we seek to ensure these victims’ access to the courts, so that they may pursue justice and obtain appropriate relief free from the impediment of arbitration requirements,” the letter states.

Florida’s attorney general Pam Bondi and North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein led the coalition.

“Decades of private arbitration proceedings regarding sexual harassment have had the unintended consequence of protecting serial violators and it must end,” Bondi said. “I … look forward to the passage of strong federal legislation to help protect employees from workplace sexual harassment.”

The letter notes arbitration requirements set out in “fine print” clauses of lengthy employment contracts, ”presented in boilerplate ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ fashion by the employers.” It states victims often aren’t aware of the arbitration mandate until they try to bring suit.

“While there may be benefits to arbitration provisions in other contexts, they do not extend to sexual harassment claims,” the attorneys general wrote. “Victims of such serious misconduct should not be constrained to pursue relief from decision makers who are not trained as judges, are not qualified to act as courts of law, and are not positioned to ensure that such victims are accorded both procedural and substantive due process.”

Monday’s letter was the group’s first bipartisan communication in about a decade to Congress, according to information from Bondi’s office. Their last such letter came in 2008, when they wrote to address the funding cut that slashed 67 percent, or about $350 million, from the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program that provides federal criminal justice funding to state, local and tribal jurisdictions.

Now, the group called on lawmakers to give employees raising sexual harassment claims a chance to take their dispute to court.

The letter states, “Congress today has both opportunity and cause to champion the rights of victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.”