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New law ends forced arbitration for sexual assault, harassment

Most people don’t read the fine print in the contracts and other legal documents they sign – including those related to their employment. Those documents often stipulate that if the person signing the document has a legal dispute, it must be settled via arbitration.

This arbitration requirement is often used to keep businesses out of court and the terms of legal settlements private. Unfortunately, that has allowed businesses with high-level executives and others accused of all manner of wrongdoing to compensate victims while keeping their “dirty laundry” out of the public eye.

The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act

Now, thanks to a law just passed with bipartisan support in Congress and sure to get President Biden’s signature, the requirement for required arbitration and confidentiality when it comes to sexual misconduct is ending. Although it applies to all types of contracts, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act is expected to have the greatest impact in the workplace.

As we’ve seen in high-profile cases like that of Harvey Weinstein, predators have been allowed to continue their behavior for far too long because victims who reached settlements were forbidden from going public without risking litigation that could destroy them financially. Perhaps the legislation’s most vocal champion in Congress, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, said the law “will give survivors their day in court, allow them to discuss their cases publicly and end the days of institutional protection for harassers.”

The law is retroactive

The new law will not only protect victims going forward. It will allow more than 60 million victims who have settled their cases to void their confidentiality agreements. Note that it doesn’t prohibit victims from choosing to use arbitration and keep the matter confidential if they choose to.

It’s crucial for all victims of workplace sexual harassment or assault, past and present, to understand how the new law affects them and their right to seek justice and speak out.