Joe Biden signed legislation that prohibits companies from forcing arbitration in cases involving claims of sexual assault and harassment.
Biden handed the pen he used to sign the bill to former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who was one of the chief champions of the bill and spoke at the White House ceremony.
Carlson’s 2016 sexual harassment lawsuit led to the downfall of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
She said that she “could never have imagined” after filing the lawsuit that “this day of real change could actually come.”
The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act gives employees a choice of going to court to pursue sexual misconduct claims or through arbitration. Companies have routinely put forced arbitration clauses in contracts, meaning that private proceedings are held to resolve claims, often with terms that keep decisions confidential.
Carlson said that she believes the law will “have a dual effect.”
“It’s going to help companies get on the right side of history and be more transparent, but I believe that it is also going to stop the bad behavior, because now everyone will know that women’s voices can be heard,” she said.
In his comments, Biden said that he would like to see mandatory arbitration clauses banned outright for all types of employment disputes, something that is the subject of upcoming legislation in the House.
He said that the clauses “enabled employers to sweep episodes of sexual assault and harassment under the rug and it kept survivors from knowing others have experienced the same thing in the same workplace, at the hands of the same person.”
Carlson had an arbitration clause in her contract, but, as she told NPR last month, her lawyer “strategically came up with the plan to sue Roger Ailes personally instead of Fox News as an entity to try to circumvent the arbitration clause and at least make my case public.”
Ailes resigned as the CEO of Fox News several weeks after Carlson filed her lawsuit. Two months later, Fox News settled Carlson’s claim, reportedly for $20 million, and the network’s parent 21st Century Fox issued an apology. Ailes, who had denied the claim, died the following year.
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