Calling it a “momentous day for justice and fairness in the workplace,” President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into a law a bill that ends forced arbitration for workers who are victims of sexual assault and harassment.
“Forced arbitration shielded perpetrators and silenced survivors, enabled employers to sweep episodes of sexual assault and harassment under the rug, and kept survivors from knowing if others have experienced the same thing,” Biden said before signing the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021.
The measure prohibits employers from forcing workers to settle sexual misconduct claims in closed-door arbitration venues that often favor alleged perpetrators. Employees instead can file suit in court with their own legal representation, but would still have the arbitration option.
“It should be their choice and nobody else’s choice,” Biden said.
About 60 million workers in the U.S. are bound by forced arbitration clauses.
“You might have signed one without knowing it,” Biden said.
Vice President Kamala Harris — who cosponsored a version of the bill five years ago when she was in the Senate — said it “has been a long road to get to today,” but the law will “make our nation’s workplaces more safe and more just.”
She noted that the law “will apply retroactively, invalidating everyone of these agreements, no matter when they were entered into.”
It also applies to consumers who approve terms of agreement in exchange for using products, such as ride sharing services.
The Senate passed the bill last month by voice vote, indicating no opposition. The House passed the measure in a 335-97 vote.
In attendance and speaking at the White House signing ceremony was one of the bill’s longtime champions, Gretchen Carlson. The former Fox News host started an advocacy group pushing for corporate change after she sued former Fox News CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes. Fox settled the sexual harassment case for $20 million.
Carlson said the new law will “make the workplace safer for millions of women,” and proves “both parties can come together to get something good done.”
Dareh Gregorian is a politics reporter for NBC News.