The House passed a bill on Monday that would ban the use of forced arbitration in lawsuits involving sexual assault and harassment claims.
Lawmakers passed the bill on a bipartisan basis, 335–97. In total, 113 Republicans joined with all Democrats in support of H.R.4445, also known as the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021,” while 97 Republicans voted against it.
Forced arbitration, also known as mandatory arbitration, prohibits workers from suing an employer if they experience sexual harassment in the workplace.
The legislation will void forced arbitration agreements in any contract if a sexual assault or harassment claim is brought and will instead grant them the option of suing in federal, state, or tribal court.
This, lawmakers say, will provide survivors with the “freedom to decide what legal path works best for them.”
“More than 60 million Americans are subjected to forced arbitration clauses in the workplace, preventing them from choosing how to seek justice for wrongful and abusive treatment,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who co-led the legislation.
“Survivors should have the opportunity to use their voices however they see fit. Today the House of Representatives took an important step towards protecting workers and their wellbeing and ending widespread, systemic abuse in workplaces across this country,” she said.
Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), the measure’s chief sponsor, said that the majority of Americans “unknowingly signed their rights away” when they sign employment paperwork and lease agreements to the terms and conditions for apps and services where such legal agreements pertaining to forced arbitration are “hidden.”
“The legislation we passed on the House Floor today will do away with these predatory pitfalls—and I’m proud to say that it has widespread support among Democrats and Republicans and in the House and Senate,” Bustos said.
The bill, which was first introduced last year, now heads to the Senate, where it’s expected to advance and reach President Joe Biden, who could sign it as soon as this week.
The White House indicated earlier this month that Biden will sign it, saying in a statement that the administration is “committed to eliminating sexual harassment and assault, and looks forward to working with the Congress on the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act as it proceeds through the legislative process.”
Passage of the bill comes more than four years after the social movement against sexual abuse and sexual harassment, known as “Me Too,” began in 2017.
The movement, which saw people across the globe share their personal experiences of sexual abuse and harassment, including celebrities, prompted lawmakers in several states to expand sexual harassment laws, while Congress itself took steps to reform itself as a workplace after allegations of sexual misconduct arose.
However, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly opposes the bill, saying it promotes “expensive class action litigation that does little to help businesses, consumers, and employees.”
“Arbitration is a fair, effective, and less expensive means of resolving disputes compared to going to court,” the Chamber said in a Nov. 3 letter to senators. “Multiple empirical studies demonstrate that claimants in arbitration do just as well, or in many circumstances, considerably better, than in court.”