Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-7th District, joined colleagues in the House and Senate Wednesday to introduce bipartisan legislation to help prevent workplace sexual harassment in the wake of the growing #MeToo movement.
“This does have the potential to be a watershed moment but only if we actually take it as such and move forward legislation as the one that we are proposing today,” said Jayapal.
“The reality we as women understand this is happening to all of us of all political stripes. It’s time to change that,” she continued.
Jayapal along with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, introduced a proposal that would ban companies from forcing employees to agree to private arbitration to settle harassment complaints, in lieu of a public legal process.
Carlson, who claims she was forced out of Fox for refusing sexual advances, argues arbitration clauses keep harassment complaints and settlements secret.
“Forced arbitration is the harasser's best friend,” said Carlson. "It allows harassers to stay in their jobs even as victims are pushed out or many times fired.”
Carlson went public with her story last year, filing a lawsuit against former network chairman Roger Ailes.
It’s estimated around 60 million Americans are subject to arbitration clauses in employee agreements, according to a statement by the lawmakers.
Seattle HR expert Wendy Gillihan of Gryffin Consulting says the clauses are common with larger organizations and often non-negotiable.
“You are typically restricted from your ability to sue and therefore there will be no public record that (harassment) ever occurred,” said Gillihan. “We’re seeing this with some of the stories that are now coming out, that the victim was unable to warn other people that there may be a situation that might be risky for them.”
During Wednesday’s news conference, Graham called on the business community to support the bill.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it would review the legislation, according to an article by USA Today.
“I think companies will get on board if they understand that failing to do so directly contributes to an environment that is unfair and unequal for a percentage of the population,” said Gillihan.
“Voiding arbitration agreements goes that the heart of the power dynamic and when you’re talking about things like sexual harassment, what you need to do is address power dynamics within an organization, and that has to be first and foremost for it to be effective,” she continued.
Gillihan, herself is a survivor of sexual assault is now part of a powerful movement amplified this year by the hashtag #MeToo.
“It’s about time,” said Gillihan fighting back tears. “Silence certainly was not solving the problem. We were never going to see improvement in our society by allowing that silence to continue.”
Separately, Washington Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, D-1st District, has proposed legislation to eliminate tax breaks that allow corporations to deduct settlements paid out to alleged victims of sexual misconduct.