At the 2022 National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC), RALIANCE leader and founding member, Monika Johnson Hostler was joined by legal expert Julia Duncan and sexual harassment prevention advocate Gretchen Elizabeth Carlson to discuss a momentous piece of new legislation prohibiting forced arbitration in federal contracts.
As Julia Duncan explained, prior to the law’s signing in April, employers could require that employees with a complaint or dispute enter arbitration—a private, closed-door procedure decided by a less-than-impartial arbiter. This process often failed to prevent repeat misconduct within companies and can be dissatisfying for complainants, especially survivors of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. Arbitration is often unfair to employees, as ongoing relationships between employers and arbiters leads to potential bias against survivors.
Carlson is familiar with this subject as one of the first high-profile cases of the #MeToo movement. In 2016, she successfully sued then-chairman and CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment—a victory she almost never pursued because she was bound to a forced arbitration clause in her contract. It was her case that set off a domino effect to oust Ailes and eventually bring the #MeToo movement into the mainstream.
During the NSAC workshop, RALIANCE spotlighted survivor testimony from the House Judiciary Committee Hearing on November 16, 2021 entitled “Silenced: How Forced Arbitration Keeps Victims of Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Shadows.” Participants listened to the testimony of one of the survivor witnesses, Andowah Newton, who talked about how forced arbitration had kept her from receiving help and getting justice. During discussion, Julia Duncan, Senior Director of Government Affairs at American Association for Justice, pointed out that the survivor witnesses would not have been able to testify if they weren’t under subpoena because of their employment agreements–the very type of policy that needed to be changed.
Carlson later spoke about working across the aisle to get H.R.4445 – Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 – to the finish line. She pointed out that a “yes” vote for the bill was the goal—even if there was not universal agreement on every policy issue. “This is an apolitical issue,” she said, “Before somebody decides to harass or assault you, they don’t ask you what political party you’re in, because they don’t care. This is about power, and that’s why we should come together as a nation, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to solve this issue.”
As Carlson’s advocacy demonstrated, uniting opposing parties is possible and productive for taking a step toward making a positive change.
RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.