In a big win for employees, Congress has passed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act. This means that your employment attorney can now file a sexual harassment lawsuit (https://www.zatlaw.com/new-jersey-sexual-harassment-lawyer/) in court even if your employer made you sign an arbitration agreement giving up your rights to a civil jury lawsuit as a condition of your employment.
In general, employers use the tactic of compelling their employees to sign arbitration agreements in order to have employment disputes decided by an arbitrator rather than by a jury in court. This is usually beneficial for employers, and disadvantageous for their workers, for several reasons. First, in arbitration, an employee is denied having their case decided by a jury of their peers; i.e. of normal working people like themselves. Instead, the case is decided by a single arbitrator, who is typically an attorney or retired judge. Second, in arbitration, an employee cannot take advantage of the expansive “discovery” rules available in court, and is therefore typically severely limited in information and material that can be obtained to prove his or her case. Finally, except in very narrow circumstances, an arbitrator’s decision is not appealable. If an arbitrator makes a mistake or a bad ruling inconsistent with the law, there is no recourse to get the ruling overturned.
Due the limitations imposed by employment arbitration agreements, employment attorneys and worker advocates have been struggling for a long time to have these agreements deemed unenforceable by courts and legislative bodies. Unfortunately, it has been an uphill struggle because a long-standing federal statute known as the Federal Arbitration Act has been universally interpreted to find that arbitration agreements are “favored” in the law and applicable in the employment context.
However, a significant milestone has now been with achieved. The United States Congress has amended the Federal Arbitration Act to specifically prevent employers from requiring employees to arbitrate sexual harassment claims. The new statute statutes provides that no arbitration provision “shall be valid or enforceable with respect to a case… [that] relates to the sexual assault or the sexual harassment dispute.” 9 U.S.C. § 402.
Victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment in the workplace in New Jersey can now file in the Superior Court and have their claims decided by a jury regardless of whether they were forced to sign arbitration agreement in order to keep their job.