March 28th, 2019
A Possible Step Back for Arbitration
In 2019, it seems like arbitration is everywhere you look. If you take a new job, rent a truck, or buy a new cell phone, it’s almost certain there’s an arbitration clause lurking in the shadows.
But that may be changing. Like many employers, Google required its employees to resolve any work-related disputes through arbitration. Recently, however, Google was rocked by allegations that some of its executives had been guilty of sexual harassment. Victims couldn’t sue for recovery, and the private nature of the arbitration process kept these allegations out of the spotlight. When 20,000 Google employees walked out in protest, the issue of sexual harassment came to the forefront--and, with it, the issue of forcing victims into arbitration. Google responded by repealing its arbitration policy for sexual harassment cases. Not long after, Google went a step further by repealing the policy for all disputes involving its full-time employees.
Google is not the first company to roll back forced arbitration. Other large companies, like Microsoft, Uber, Adobe and Intuit, have done the same thing. Could this be a trend? Will other companies see the wisdom of repealing a policy widely considered unfair and oppressive? Only time will tell.
But we may not have to wait. On February 28, the organizers behind the Google walkout appeared with Democratic lawmakers as they introduced a new bill to impose a nationwide ban on forced arbitration in the workplace. Senator Richard Blumenthal, one of the bill’s sponsors, acknowledged what Google had done voluntarily, but added: “We’re not willing to wait for corporate America to do the right thing. This kind of injustice has to end for the sake of everyone in the workplace, men and women.”
Hopefully, the momentum we’ve already seen in the private sector will spur Congress to act. Forced arbitration deprives honest, hard working Americans of their full legal remedies. It’s especially harmful in the employment setting, where an employee’s livelihood and future may be hanging in the balance. Congress should move this bill quickly and end workplace arbitration once and for all.