By Levi Sumagaysay
FAIR Act proponents hope for passage under new Democrat-majority Senate
An effort to end forced arbitration that was previously passed by the House, with help from Google employees, is being revived in Washington on Thursday.
The Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act would ban agreements like mandatory arbitration, which takes away the rights of people to take legal action and participate in class-action lawsuits in case of employment, consumer, antitrust and civil rights disputes. It would allow employees to sue their employers in cases of wage theft, harassment or discrimination, or customers to sue companies over fraud, privacy violations, product liability and more.
A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Panel will hold a Thursday morning hearing on the bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, at the urging of a group of Google workers and others in 2019.
"As the gap widens between the haves and the have nots, so too does the massive power differential between soulless corporations and individuals just trying to get by," Johnson said in a statement to MarketWatch. "People struggling to make ends meet during a global pandemic, now more than ever, need to retain the ability to hold them accountable through our judicial system."
Gretchen Carlson, a former news anchor who sued her Fox boss, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment in 2016 and has since advocated to end mandatory arbitration, is set to be a witness before the subcommittee.
Other proponents of the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act, which passed the House of Representatives in 2019 but wasn't taken up by the Senate, think it could have a better chance this year because of a new presidential administration and a Democrat-majority Senate.
"I really think we have a shot this year," Tanuja Gupta, a Google employee who helped organize the Google Walkout in 2018 and later helped form Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration, told MarketWatch. "This is one of those rare issues where the parties can get behind the same change even if for different reasons. And a little bipartisanship would go a long way right now."
Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration said in a blog post () Thursday that the need to end forced arbitration has become "increasingly relevant during COVID as we watched employers and nursing homes evade accountability with forced arbitration clauses." More than 50% of U.S. workers are subject to forced arbitration, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Google employee Vicki Tardiff said in the post: "We are inspired by the stories of sacrifice and charity during this pandemic, but forced arbitration means we may never know how many people gave their lives because they did not have adequate PPE or were forced to work while ill. Instead the stories will be locked under NDA [nondisclosure agreements] or never allowed to be told at all."
See: California bill would expand protections for workers to speak out about harassment or discrimination ()
In 2019, the work of Gupta and her group were instrumental in getting Google to end mandatory arbitration (Alphabet (GOOGL)(GOOGL) companies./) in all types of disputes for all of the company's full-time employees. (The Google Walkout had led to the company ending forced arbitration in sexual-harassment cases.) Last year, as part of a settlement of shareholder lawsuits over the company's sexual-harassment scandals, Google agreed ( ) to extend the waiving of mandatory arbitration to all
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose Institute for Legal Reform opposed the FAIR Act when it was last introduced, has not returned a request for comment.
-Levi Sumagaysay; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 11, 2021 13:28 ET (18:28 GMT)
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