Women in the #MeToo movement in 2017 exposed patriarchal employment agreements that protect sexual predators in the workplace from legal action and public shame.
And women led the effort to end those practices. Four days before Valentine’s Day, 2022, news hounds woke to hear that the bill, “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act” had passed the Congress in rare bipartisanship.
“DID YOU SEE THIS?” Women everywhere texted each other in all caps asking if this surprise news flash could possibly be true.
Forced arbitration clauses are fine print boilerplates hidden in agreements and contracts. They’re concealed in the terms and conditions to enter a nursing home, start a new job, become a patient or rent an apartment. These clauses have prevented survivors of sexual abuse from holding the abuser accountable in a court of law. They require the accuser to submit to secret in-house arbitration.
This new legislation allows employees to expose sexual misconduct to the public, a gigantic cultural shift that will prove to be the deterrent to workplace abuse.
Before this act was passed the sexual abuser could have the accusing woman (or man) fired or demoted. Well, watch out abusers! In the future, your deviant sexual behavior and bullying tactics just may end up splayed all over the news.
It’s been reported that more than half of the US workforce is under forced arbitration contracts. As a pensioner, I greeted the news with mixed emotions. How different would my life have been if fear of reprisal hadn’t stopped me from reporting former bosses and co-workers? Would I have turned in the bigwig who showed up at my apartment building over and over to work on the latest project? Or the guy who thought he had a right to fondle my breasts at work when no one was looking?
I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I’d had the guts and the legal avenue to report them. I know one thing. I shied away from proximity to sexually aggressive men and missed opportunities for better jobs as a result. I tolerated bosses who treated women as replaceable sex objects and male co-workers who pestered women with sexually charged jokes, remarks, and teasing.
Mandatory clauses in nursing home contracts require that any dispute between the family of a resident and the facility be submitted to binding, confidential arbitration. According to the Administration for Community Living, 20,000 sexual abuse complaints were filed in nursing homes over the past 20 years. That’s about three residents every day. Most nursing home residents and their families are unaware they’d waived their right to sue over sexual misconduct when they signed the required paperwork. The new legislation allows these cases to be brought to court and adjudicated in the light of day.
I missed opportunities to bring abusers to justice in my working years. Now that there’s a legal obstacle to abuse, I need not fear if I end up living out my days in a nursing home.
Thank you women. Thank you RAINN.org. Thank you advocates. And thank you Gretchen Carlson, the Fox News host who publicly accused Roger Ailes and never left her courage at the door. (video of Gretchen Carlson: https://wapo.st/3oGT4tY)