Congress on Thursday gave final approval to legislation guaranteeing that people who experience sexual harassment at work can seek recourse in the courts, a milestone for the #MeToo movement that prompted a national reckoning on the way sexual misconduct claims are handled. The legislation had such uncommonly broad and bipartisan support in a divided Congress that the bill was passed in the Senate by unanimous consent, a procedure almost never used for significant legislation, especially one affecting tens of millions of Americans. The House passed the bill this week with a heavily bipartisan vote of 335- 97.
Spearheaded by Tarana Burke, a prominent Black educator and activist, the #MeToo movement became a global social media cause with hundreds of thousands of women, from high-profile celebrities to anonymous users sharing their stories of sexual assault.
The measure, which is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden, bars employment contracts from forcing people to settle sexual assault or harassment cases through arbitration rather than in court, a process that often benefits employers and keeps misconduct allegations from becoming public. Most significantly, the bill is retroactive, nullifying that language in contracts nationwide and opening the door for people who had been bound by it to take legal action.
BREAKING: The U.S. Senate has officially passed my bill, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault & Sexual Harassment Act!⁰⁰Survivors will soon be able to seek justice in the courtroom, once this bill becomes law. Next stop, @POTUS Biden’s desk. #EndForcedArbitration
— Rep. Cheri Bustos (@RepCheri) February 10, 2022
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who has been the driving force behind the legislation, called it “one of the most significant workplace reforms in American history.”
Today the Senate passed one of the most significant workplace reforms in the last 50 years. I’m live now with @SenSchumer, @LindseyGrahamSC, @SenatorDurbin, and @ChuckGrassley to applaud the passage of the #EndForcedArbitration Act. https://t.co/WIFiJJW6pB
— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (@gillibrandny) February 10, 2022
An estimated 60 million American workers have clauses buried deeply within their employment contracts forcing them to settle any allegations of sexual misconduct in private arbitration proceedings, rather than in court. The widespread practice has come under fire in the wake of the #MeToo movement for forcing employees to seek recourse without a jury, a chance to appeal a decision, or the sunlight of a public court process. In a sign of the power of the #MeToo movement and wide-ranging support behind the change, the legislation’s co-sponsors included senators who are ideologically polar opposites, such as New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker and Missouri Republican Josh Hawley.
HUGE: The Senate just passed a bill to #EndForcedArbitration. I voted for this bill because every victim of sexual assault or harassment deserves a day in court if they choose—shielding abusers from accountability through forced arbitration is cruel and unjust.
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) February 10, 2022
“If you could ever say any legislation was long overdue, this is it,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY). He called it “almost medieval” to force victims of harassment and assault “to shut up, not tell anyone about it and not seek justice.”