Law allows employees to make informed choice on venue to seek justice after sexual assault or harassment
The Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) welcomed the President’s signing of the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, H.R. 4445, into law at a White House ceremony.
The new law amends the Federal Arbitration Act and allows employees subject to pre-dispute mandatory arbitration agreements to pursue in court their claims related to sexual assault or sexual harassment. The law allows workers to choose how to pursue their cases after sexual assault or harassment has occurred.
“I am delighted that the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act has become law,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows. “For too long, enforcement of pre-dispute mandatory arbitration agreements has served as a potential barrier to justice for individuals who have suffered assault or harassment at work.”
EEOC Vice Chair Jocelyn Samuels said, “Access to justice is critical for robust protection of civil rights. The Ending Forced Arbitration Act offers essential protection for workers who are subject to sexual assault or harassment and will significantly advance the promise of our nation’s anti-discrimination laws.”
While private parties are bound by arbitration agreements, the EEOC is not. Private parties can continue to file charges of discrimination for the EEOC to investigate and possibly litigate.
Burrows said, “The EEOC cannot be forced into arbitration, nor are we bound by class action waivers in employment discrimination claims – including workplace sexual harassment disputes. As a result, the EEOC has been on the front lines of preserving access to the legal system for individuals subjected to mandatory arbitration agreements for workplace sexual harassment disputes. But the EEOC only has sufficient resources to file suit in a small fraction of all charges of discrimination it receives, while pre-dispute arbitration agreements govern millions of workers in the United States. This legislation would increase the ability of private citizens, along with the EEOC, to fully vindicate their rights to be free from sexual harassment. The EEOC will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to serve the public interest in this area.”
As the #MeToo movement brought to light, in the worst cases, secrecy can shield serial harassers from accountability and allow them to repeatedly abuse employees. Court decisions and orders make the identity of violators of the law and their conduct public, which can serve to influence behavior and deter sexual harassment and assault from occurring in the first place.
Some of America’s most prominent employers have already voluntarily discontinued mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment claims, and several states have passed laws aimed at restricting mandatory arbitration of harassment claims.
The EEOC provides outreach and education to workers and employers regarding preventing harassment at work, and has investigated, resolved, litigated, and adjudicated tens of thousands of claims of workplace harassment.
In Fiscal Year 2020, 6,587 sexual harassment private sector charges were filed with the EEOC. According to the report of the Co-Chairs of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, most people who experience harassment in employment do not report it, and 50-70% of women have faced some form of unwanted or unwelcome sexual harassment in the workplace. More information about sexual harassment in the workplace can be found at https://www.eeoc.gov/sexual-harassment.
The act passed the U.S. House of Representatives by 335-97 on February 7, 2022, and the U.S. Senate by voice vote on February 10, 2022. The act goes into effect immediately and will apply to disputes that arise beginning today.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.