The clock is ticking down on forced arbitration
May 2019 - Charlotte McBirney
Credit: PHOTOSYNC / Shutterstock
An employee sexually harassed by her supervisor for months. A U.S. Navy reservist fired for taking time off to serve his country. A mother trying to make ends meet charged an illegal 1,000 percent on a payday loan. What do they all have in common? Forced arbitration.
These were some of the personal accounts delivered by a group of victim advocates—some clients of AAJ members—at a press conference in February, when members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate introduced a package of bills to combat forced arbitration. The results of a recent nationwide poll by Hart Research that showed broad bipartisan opposition to forced arbitration were also announced.
The focus of the press conference was the “Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act.” Introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) with 148 original co-sponsors in the House and 33 in the Senate—indicating broad support for this legislation—the FAIR Act would prohibit forced arbitration of all investor, consumer, employment, civil rights, and antitrust claims. It would restore the right to hold corporations accountable when they physically or financially harm people. In previous congresses, similar legislation was introduced, known as the “Arbitration Fairness Act.”
Advocates take a stand. At the press conference, 11 victim advocates—including former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, U.S. Navy reservist Kevin Ziober, and Tanuja Gupta, an organizer for the Google employee walkout, spoke about their personal experiences with forced arbitration.
When Lilly Silbert from California, a client of AAJ President Elise Sanguinetti, described being sexually assaulted during a visit to her local Massage Envy spa, the room full of press, congressional staffers, and members of Congress was captivated and horrified. Lilly described how, after the assault, she tried unsuccessfully for months to cancel her membership with Massage Envy, before finally downloading and using the app to try to cancel her membership. That app included a forced arbitration clause. The company is now trying to force her, and hundreds of other sexually assaulted women, into arbitration.
In addition to Sen. Blumenthal and Rep. Johnson, the following members of Congress attended the press conference and spoke in favor of the legislation: Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.); Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.); House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.); Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.); and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).
Other narrower bills were introduced to end forced arbitration in several areas, including for students of for-profit colleges, survivors of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination, and consumers who have been harmed by financial corporations.
Counting down. AAJ will prioritize advancing the FAIR Act and other bills that eliminate forced arbitration and restore the rights of workers, consumers, and investors to seek justice in court. We encourage every AAJ member to reach out to members of Congress to ensure they support the FAIR Act.