Biden Signs Law Banning Forced Arbitration — But Only Over Sexual Misconduct

The Intercept
Thursday, March 3, 2022

At Thursday’s signing ceremony, the president called for sweeping reform. It still faces steep opposition in a corporate-friendly Congress.

By Sara Sirota, Austin Ahlman

President Joe Biden signed a groundbreaking bill Thursday, effectively banning employers from forcing workers to resolve sexual assault and harassment complaints behind closed doors. Businesses have long put arbitration mandates into contracts without the knowledge of employees and consumers, leaving them with little choice to seek justice in public court when a dispute arises.

“President Biden has long spoken against forced arbitration clauses in employment contracts and today marks an important milestone in empowering survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment and protecting employee rights,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing Thursday. She notably did not mention such predatory clauses in consumer agreements, which Democratic advocates are striving to ban too.…

“The broader the prohibition against forced arbitration, the [more] difficult it is to defeat the armies of lobbyists and lawyers,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., original sponsor of the FAIR Act, told The Intercept in February. Big corporations may view reform for sexual assault cases as a no-brainer, but once tort claims and unemployment discrimination come into play, “Woah, that hurts our bottom line,” he said, mimicking business owner fears about restoring public justice to workers and consumers.

However, employee and consumer rights advocates like Joanne Doroshow, executive director at New York Law School’s Center for Justice & Democracy, share Gillibrand’s optimism. “This first bill was the first crack in the forced arbitration wall,” she told The Intercept in an email. “Now, other efforts get easier and easier. How can corporate lobbyists continue to argue with a straight face that forced arbitration clauses are good for the American public, in fact so great that for their own good, people must be forced to agree to them?”

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