A pair of rulings interpreting a workplace sexual assault and harassment law that came from the #MeToo movement could make it easier to keep other employment claims in court and out of court. Congress recently passed a bill aimed at preventing employers from requiring arbitration of sexual assault and sexual harassment claims. The law, known as the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, will impact employers’ country-wide. The law is especially valuable in California, as many employers seek to use mandatory arbitration clauses or agreements to resolve sexual assault and sexual harassment claims with employees.
Before this law, many employers have relied upon arbitration agreements in Employment Agreements with their new employees, or in Separation Agreements with departing employees. Moreover, these agreements will usually include class action waivers, such that employees are limited to claims against their employer on their own and cannot pursue claims on behalf of any other person. Employment agreements with arbitration clauses limit the employee to engaging in disputes between the parties and a neutral third-party arbitrator and bound the parties to the arbitrator’s decision. Through the employee’s agreement to the arbitration agreement, the employee forgoes his or her right to pursue claims in court in front of a judge or jury – which can certainly prejudice an employee.
Under the new law, however, employers will no longer be able to require arbitration of sexual assault or sexual harassment claims. Specifically, the new law bars the enforcement of most mandatory arbitration provisions in cases alleging sexual assault or sexual harassment, in addition to claims of retaliation resulting from internal complaints of sexual assault or harassment.
The new law will also invalidate pre-dispute agreements which waive an employee’s right to participate in a class action in court, arbitration or any other forum that relates to a sexual assault or sexual harassment dispute. Notably, the law also has a retroactive effect. It bans enforcement of pre-dispute arbitration agreements for claims of sexual assault and sexual harassment that were entered into before it was enacted.
While this law is a significant step in support of employee’s claims against employers, it does not apply to claims other than sexual assault and sexual harassment – such as wage and hour, discrimination, or other employment disputes.