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Bill barring forced arbitration of sexual harassment claims introduced

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A bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Congress on Wednesday would prevent employers from compelling employees to arbitrate sexual harassment and discrimination claims.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017, which would void compulsory arbitration agreements for sexual harassment and discrimination claims, according to a statement issued by the bill's sponsors on Wednesday.

Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is one of six Senate co-sponsors while a companion bill was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by a bipartisan group of legislators, including Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois.

“This legislation takes off the table the ability of employers to mandate arbitration before claims even arise,” Sen. Graham said in the statement. “Mandatory arbitration employment contracts put the employee at a severe disadvantage. I do not oppose arbitration – if the parties willingly consent to the process. Ensuring that sexual harassment and assault claims cannot be negotiated away before they occur will create incentives to change the workplace environment, making it less hostile and more respectful.”

Forced arbitration clauses prevent employees alleging sexual harassment from discussing the nature or basis of their complaints, according to the statement. If an employee’s contract or employee handbook includes a forced arbitration clause, the employee is likely to have signed away his or her right to a jury trial whether or not they are aware of the clause, the statement said.

 “When a company has a forced arbitration policy, it means that if a worker is sexually harassed or sexually assaulted in the workplace, they are not allowed to go to court over it; instead, they have to go into a secret meeting with their employer and try to work out some kind of deal that really only protects the predator,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “They are forbidden from talking about what happened, and then they are expected to keep doing their job as if nothing happened to them. No worker should have to put up with such an unfair system.”