There is a general belief that arbitration favors employers and large businesses. However, an important change in the law, backed by bipartisan support, has advanced employee rights significantly by increasing their access to courts for certain claims. Specifically, the new law affects an employer’s ability to enforce an arbitration agreement and handle sexual harassment/assault claims privately through arbitration.
On March 3, 2022, President Biden signed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (the “Act”) into law. This law, which amends the Federal Arbitration Act, prohibits forced arbitration of sexual harassment and sexual assault claims.
Under the new statute, a litigant who brings a sexual harassment or sexual assault case will not be bound by an arbitration agreement or a waiver of a collective or class action that they entered into before the dispute arose. Specifically, the Act provides:
at the election of the person alleging conduct constituting a sexual harassment dispute or sexual assault dispute, or the named representative of a class or in a collective action alleging such conduct, no predispute arbitration agreement or predispute joint-action waiver shall be valid or enforceable with respect to a case which is filed under Federal, Tribal, or State law and relates to the sexual assault dispute or the sexual harassment dispute.
Many have commented on the overall purpose of the Amendment. For example, one senator said that the law will ensure that the voices of sexual assault and sexual harassment survivors voices will not be silenced. The senator also noted that the law is narrow in scope and application and should not be the catalyst for destroying employment arbitration agreements entered into prior to a dispute arising.