Bill seeks to end forced arbitration of sexual assault
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Senators today moved to the voting file a bill that would prevent a sexual assault complaint from being negotiated away through the arbitration process.
“Forced arbitration strips a survivor of the right to decide how to pursue accountability and does very little to stop this type of systemic abuse from occurring again," said Speaker Therese Terlaje, author of Bill 319-36.
"We have heard of stories from survivors right here on our island, for whom forced arbitration continues to place barriers in front of their quests for justice," she added.
Terlaje said Bill 319-36 Bill 319-36 bill mirrors a portion of U.S. Public Law 117-90, which amended the Federal Arbitration Act, effectively invalidating any pre-dispute arbitration clause in cases involving sexual misconduct allegations. The intent of the measure is to apply these standards and protections locally.
The federal legislation was championed and supported by a mass coalition of survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and their allies, to include the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, among many, many more.
"It must be the most unbearable thing to be sexually harassed or assaulted by an employer, a colleague, or a doctor and then be forced to settle your disputes in secretive proceedings- in a private system of costly mandatory arbitration. We must end the forced silence of victims," Terlaje said.
The bill seeks to ensure that victims of sexual harassment and assault have the option of suing their abusers in court, invalidating any contract that closed off the option – a common condition of employment at many companies.
Nancy Erika Smith, an employment lawyer who represented Gretchen Carlson in a landmark sexual harassment case against the founder and then CEO of Fox News told the New York Times, “The Weinsteins, the Cosbys, the Roger Ailes and the Bill O’Reillys of the world used mandatory arbitration to force women into secrecy. They stayed in positions of power and continued to abuse women.”
Terlaje noted during her remarks on the bill that going to court is not easy, but the threat of woman going to court often make companies take a realistic view of their liability.
When a woman files a sexual harassment lawsuit in court, she typically ends up hearing from other women and that doesn’t happen when you file a request for arbitration. It’s a much bigger threat to be able to go to court.
“We can only make these types of meaningful changes to our laws when these voices speak out bravely and loudly,” Terlaje said.