US Congress Passes Landmark #MeToo Legislation With Bipartisan Support

© REUTERS / ERIN SCOTTA view of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington DC, U.S. January 17, 2021.
A view of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington DC, U.S. January 17, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 10.02.2022
The US Senate passed on Thursday a landmark workplace legislation that forbids clauses in employee contracts that force victims of sexual assault and harassment into arbitration, a private court that functions outside of the government’s judiciary courts and is paid for by the employer or company who the suit is often leveled against.
The bill was first introduced in 2017 by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and previously cleared the House of Representatives on Monday with a sweeping 335-97 vote. At the time, 113 Republicans joined all Democrats in support of the legislation and approximately 97 Republicans voted against the measure, which now heads to US President Joe Biden’s desk. A signature could take place as soon as sometime this week.
“I believe that this is a good bill, a righteous bill, a just bill. When you start talking about sexual assault and sexual harassment, nobody goes into a new employment thinking, ‘Well, I better double check all the fine print and make sure there’s nothing in there that would allow me to be sexually harassed or sexually abused,’” Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) stated in support of the bill.
The bill is considered to be a major stepping stone in the #MeToo era, with one individual in particular who is receiving much of its credit: former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson. She is being seen as the bridge between the two divisive parties who have, in a rarely seen bipartisan move, agreed on the bill which will protect some 60 million US workers.
Carlson and Graham have been working together to produce the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act since 2017. "Gretchen Carlson sat down with Lindsay [Graham] to tell him about her experience at Fox News, and I think that was something very important to him," Gillibrand, who sponsored the bill, told Axios.
In 2016, Carlson attempted to file a sexual harrassment suit against Fox News, but was shocked to learn that the move could be so easily blocked by the company due to an arbitration clause in her contract. Ultimately, Carlson and her lawyers were able to sue former network president Roger Ailes directly, in a case that was settled for an estimated $20 million. While Carlson was able to walk away with the whopping sum, she is still tied to a nondisclosure agreement that silences her from ever publicly discussing any details related to the case.
Gretchen Carlson - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.09.2016
Fox News Settles $20M Sex Harassment Suit With Former Host Gretchen Carlson
White House officials have said the bill could be a model for other issues often resolved by forced arbitration in the workplace, as it is still used to quietly resolve disputes brought up by workers concerning discrimination and pay disparity. The bill will also apply to consumers who are asked to sign “terms of agreements” when using a company’s product or service.
“From employment paperwork and lease agreements to the terms and conditions for apps and services, the majority of Americans have unknowingly signed their rights away,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), another co-sponsor of the bill. “Nullifying these ‘forced arbitration’ clauses for sexual assault and harassment claims will let survivors’ voices be heard.”
After the bill is signed into law, workers will still have the option of going the arbitration route, if they choose to do so. Bustos explained that was a possibility in the event that survivors of sexual assault or harassment prefer to avoid the public attention of a court of law.
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