Joe Biden has signed a law that prohibits companies from forcing arbitration in cases involving allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
Biden handed the pen he used to sign the bill to former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who was a leading advocate for the bill and spoke at the ceremony at the White House.
Carlson’s 2016 sexual harassment lawsuit led to the downfall of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
She said she “never could have imagined” after filing the complaint that “this day of real change could actually happen”.
The Act to End Forced Arbitration for Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment gives employees the choice of going to court to file sexual misconduct claims or resorting to arbitration. Companies have routinely inserted forced arbitration clauses into contracts, meaning that private procedures are held to resolve claims, often with terms that preserve the confidentiality of decisions.
Carlson said she thinks the law “will have a double effect.”
“It’s going to help companies get on the right side of history and be more transparent, but I think it’s also going to put a stop to bad behavior because now everyone will know that women’s voices can be heard. “, she said.
In his comments, Biden said he would like to see mandatory arbitration clauses banned outright for all types of labor disputes, which is the subject of upcoming legislation in the House.
He said the clauses “allow employers to sweep episodes of sexual assault and harassment under the rug and prevent survivors from knowing that others have experienced the same thing in the same workplace, at the hands of the same person”.
Carlson had an arbitration clause in her contract, but, as she told NPR last month, her lawyer “strategically offered to sue Roger Ailes personally instead of Fox News as an entity to try to circumvent the arbitration clause and at least make my case public.
Ailes resigned as CEO of Fox News several weeks after Carlson filed his lawsuit. Two months later, Fox News settled Carlson’s claim, reportedly for $20 million, and the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, issued an apology. Ailes, who had denied the claim, died the following year.