A bill which would help employees who have experienced sexual harassment and discrimination on the job sue their employers has been passed by the California Assembly. AB 3080 is now in front of Governor Jerry Brown who could sign the bill into law, which would prohibit employers from forcing employees to sign agreements to settle any disputes involving sexual harassment via private arbitration. Many employers include such clauses in employment contracts, where employees waive their rights to bring an action in a court of law.
As noted in a recent article in Vox, arbitration acts as a way to silence women and men who have complained of sexual harassment, forcing them into confidential settlement agreements, in a venue where they statistically less likely to win and also receive smaller settlements.
While the Supreme Court has decided that arbitration agreements are valid (Circuit City Stores Inc. v. Adams, 532 US 105 (2001) ), and therefor cannot be eliminated altogether, the California bill makes it, “illegal for an employer to revoke a job offer or retaliate against an employee who chooses not to sign such an agreement. If they do sign it, however, the courts will likely enforce the arbitration clause.” Thus, if the new bill is passed into law, it will require state wide efforts to educate Californians that they do have a right to forgo signing documents which force them into private arbitration.
Efforts to deal with such agreements are also moving in parallel on the federal level via the bipartisan Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act, which would exempt cases of sexual harassment from required arbitration and the Arbitration Fairness Act proposed by Senate Democrats, which would allow consumers and employees decide where to pursue legal claims.
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