Some Companies Are Responding to Worker Demands to Limit Arbitration

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In response to the social and political climate, some companies are already starting to limit arbitration on their own. Mounting pressure from employees as well as the general public after the #MeToo movement had several Silicon Valley tech giants altering their policy and no longer requiring workers to take their sexual harassment cases to arbitration. The first to make the change were Uber and Microsoft. Google and Facebook announced plans to follow suit not long after.

While the change is heading in the right direction, some employees are still unhappy with the state of affairs. They say the exclusion for sexual harassment claims is nowhere near enough. For example, Google experience major backlash after a recent article in the New York Times offered details about how the tech giant paid out millions in exit packages for male executives who were accused of sexual harassment, while staying silent about the actual harassment.

Anger over this situation only added to the already mounting frustration at Google over ethical and transparency issues. The tension built up to a walkout on November 1st. Over 20,000 Google employees and contractors walked off the job in protest of Google’s method of dealing with sexual harassment claims. Employees demanded that Google executives end forced arbitration for discrimination claims (including sexual harassment, racial discrimination and gender discrimination), amid other demands. The company agreed to some of the employee’s demands a week later, but only agreed to drop mandatory arbitration for claims of sexual harassment and assault.

Organizers of the walkout were glad that Google responded with some positive change, but were disappointed that they ignored completely the opportunity to address widespread racial and gender discrimination claims.

If you need to discuss discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace, and you aren’t sure where to start, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

#MeToo Movement Brings to Light a Growing Problem with Mandatory Arbitration Agreements

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In the wake of the recent #MeToo movement, many are starting to speak out about the fact that mandatory arbitration agreements may be particularly bad for women. When the #MeToo movement resulted in more and more female workers coming forward to report instances of sexual harassment in the workplace at companies like Fox and the Weinstein Company, many of them quickly realized that they would not be able to seek justice in the courts because of arbitration agreements they were required to sign as employees. 

For instance, Gretchen Carlson, former Fox News anchor, signed a required mandatory arbitration agreement. She sued former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment and received an undisclosed settlement. But she was not able to sue Fox News for their rose in allowing the sexual harassment to continue. Dozens of other women who experienced similar situations at Fox found themselves in the same situation.

As more women come forward to speak out about sexual harassment on the job, many are putting the pressure on Congress to take action and restrict or even eliminate arbitration clauses from US workplaces.

Recent Legislative Actions:

October 2017 – The Mandatory Arbitration Transparency Act was introduced. The Act prohibits businesses from including a confidentiality clause in arbitration agreements in connection with discrimination claims.

December 2017 – The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act was introduced exempting sexual harassment cases from mandatory arbitration.

February 2018 – 56 state attorneys general (5 from US territories) weighed in with a letter urging congressional leaders to vote on the bills.

March 2018 – The Arbitration Fairness Act was proposed, which would let workers and consumers decide where they should pursue their legal claims.

October 2018 - The latest bill, the Restoring Justice for Workers Act, would prohibit employers from banning class-action claims.

If you need to speak with an experienced California employment law attorney because you are experiencing labor law violations and aren’t sure how to seek justice, please get in touch with us at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Gender Bias Case: Silicon Valley Jury Clears Kleiner Firm

May 1, 2015 - A venture capital firm known as Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers (or Kleiner) was cleared of gender discrimination claims by a California jury. A former female partner at Kleiner lodged the discrimination claims. The jury trial took place in Silicon Valley.

In addition to the discrimination claims, the firm was also cleared of allegations of retaliation against Ellen Pao, a former partner at Kleiner. Ms. Pao filed suit against the firm in 2012. She was then fired from her employment. A number of admittedly embarrassing disclosures were made during the course of the jury trial regarding the treatment female employees at Kleiner. Regardless of this information, Pao was unable to receive vindication through a winning verdict. What her efforts did achieve was a newfound awareness of the Silicon Valley corporate culture, leaving many calling into question the very evident lack of diversity.

The suit included allegations that former male partners used business trips as a chance to make inappropriate advances towards their female colleagues (including, but not limited to Pao).

Pao, no longer a partner at the firm, is now the interim chief executive at Reddit, a social-news service. Ms. Pao claims that while she did engage in an affair with Ajit Nazre, a partner at Kleiner, it was brief. She also claims that when she ended the brief affair, she quickly began to lose her footing at work. What she claims was already a workplace unfriendly to female employees, became even worse. She claims that Nazre and Kleiner as a whole started to actively retaliate against her after she ended her affair with Nazre.

The company denies the allegations. They insist they did not support a workplace climate that was unfriendly towards female employees. They also presented evidence that they actually went out of their way to hire women.

Pao was not the only female employee who cited inappropriate sexual advances from partner, Nazre. Allegations were made by another employee, Trae Vassallo. She claims that he showed up at her hotel room during a business trip inappropriately clothed and urging her to join him for a drink. The company provided assurances that these claims were investigated. Post-investigation, Nazre left the firm.

If you have questions about gender bias in the workplace, please get in touch with the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.