President Biden is expected to sign into law landmark #MeToo legislation, which allows a plaintiff to elect not to arbitrate covered disputes of sexual assault or sexual harassment. The “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021,” amends the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), by narrowing its scope and applicability. The bill’s passage had bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.
Historically, some employers have implemented arbitration programs that require both the employer and its employees to arbitrate most or all types of employment claims, including claims alleging sexual harassment or sexual assault. Largely in response to the #MeToo movement, which began in late 2017, some states passed laws designed to prohibit or restrict employers from requiring employees to arbitrate sexual harassment or sexual assault claims. For example, in New York, employers are prohibited from requiring the arbitration of sexual harassment claims except where inconsistent with federal law. New York’s prohibition on mandatory arbitration in relation to sexual harassment claims went into effect on July 11, 2018, and it has applied to contracts entered into on or after that date. New Jersey and California have enacted similar laws. New Jersey’s law prohibits any provision of an arbitration agreement that waives a substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims. This law applies to all contracts and agreements entered into, renewed, modified, or amended on or after March 18, 2019. Further, on October 10, 2019, California enacted a law, which prohibits employers from requiring employees to sign new mandatory arbitration agreements concerning disputes arising under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) or California Labor Code. California’s law applies only to agreements dated January 1, 2020 or after. However, courts have found these statutes to be pre-empted by the FAA.
On February 7, 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 4445, 335 to 97. Shortly thereafter, on February 10, 2022, the bill passed the Senate in an unrecorded voice vote.