NELP Commends House Bill to End Forced Arbitration in the Workplace, Following SCOTUS Decision in Epic Systems

Washington, DC. Following is a statement by Christine Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project:

“NELP commends the introduction of H.R. 7109, the Restoring Justice for Workers Act, which would end forced arbitration clauses in the workplace, overruling the recent Supreme Court decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis. In that 5-4 opinion, written by Trump-nominated Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Court dramatically tilted the legal system against working people, paving the way for corporations to break workplace laws with impunity.

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“America’s workers had long understood that when their bosses break the law—whether it’s wage theft, discrimination, or sexual harassment—workers have the right to band together to pursue legal action. This is no longer the case after Epic Systems. The Court decided that corporations can force workers to sign arbitration clauses that nullify their right to join together, as a requirement of getting a job.

“The Restoring Justice for Workers Act would prohibit the use of forced arbitration clauses in employment contracts and prevent bosses from forcing workers to sign away their right to join together in a class or collective action.

“The #MeToo movement has illuminated how crucial it is for workers to be able to voice their concerns together—and how harmful forced arbitration is to women fighting sexual harassment. Forced arbitration means a regular person has to pursue his or her claims alone, before a private arbitrator hired by the company, with a low likelihood of success and little chance to appeal. As Gretchen Carlson has noted, ‘If a woman’s being sexually harassed in the workplace and she has an arbitration clause, she’s screwed.’

“Acting together to challenge workplace wrongs doesn’t only matter to women fighting sexual harassment—it matters to all workers. When unscrupulous employers cheat low-wage workers out of wages, joining together to blow the whistle and demand justice is often the only way the workers can recoup what they have earned. Mid-level managers targeted for layoff in corporate restructurings may need to join together—and fight together—to discover and challenge the unlawful reasons they were targeted.

“There are many more examples: Workers on shop floors denied time-and-a-half pay for overtime hours; overworked health aides on under-staffed hospital wards; and low-paid fast-food workers mislabeled as ‘assistant managers’ by their employers to skirt overtime pay requirements—these workers and many others are only able to get to the bottom of what’s going on, and get what they deserve, if they can act together. Isolated and on their own, most workers simply do not have access to the information, resources, and support they need to know and exercise their rights. Together, they do.

“Workers’ ability to thrive and act collectively to improve their jobs and economic security was dealt a series of body-blows by the Roberts Court this past term, and this Act would restore workers’ ability to band together and right workplace wrongs, getting their day in court and their voices heard.

“Currently, an estimated 60 million workers in America—56 percent of private-sector nonunion employees—have been subject to forced arbitration clauses, and of those, nearly one in three (30 percent) have lost the right to challenge wrongdoing through collective legal actions. Following Epic Systems, those numbers are only going up.

“Forced arbitration takes away people’s right to have their day in court. It’s a backdoor way of repealing laws on the books. Wage laws, anti-discrimination laws, anti-harassment laws, and more—these protections are of little use if workers can’t enforce them. We commend the bill sponsors—Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who will introduce a companion bill in the Senate—for putting forward a legislative solution that respects the fundamental right of workers, including women fighting sexual harassment, to band together.”

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