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Sen. Gillibrand Leads Bi-Partisan Effort To Empower Survivors Of Workplace Sexual Assault And Harassment

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is working with bi-partisan group of senators on legislation that empowers survivors of workplace sexual assault and harassment. She says employment contracts often include forced arbitration clauses, which are frequently buried in the fine print of employment agreements and even everyday digital click-through agreements. Such provisions legally forbid workers from suing their employer and block them from key information needed to prove their case. Gillibrand says the matter is then left in the hands of an arbitrator.

"These arbitrators are trained to simplify, reduce, and minimize these kinds of cases. They're typically selected by the employer who understands what their view of these cases is in advance. The arbitration not only allows the corporations to hide sexual harassment and assault cases in this very secretive and often biased process, but it also shields those who've committed serious misconduct from the public eye and from other employees."

Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson joined Gillibrand at Wednesday’s announcement, along with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Congressmember Cheri Bustos (D-IL). Carlson sued the network’s founder and CEO Roger Ailes five years ago this month. He died the following year.

"It's going to stop companies from hiding their dirty laundry. So, we do this work for the millions of people who don't necessarily have the resources or the platform that I have to make this public."

Carolson says they’ve had some success; Fox News was fined and forbidden from using forced arbitration clauses. Wells Fargo and Microsoft have also eliminated them. Gillibrand says an estimated 60 million Americans are subject to the clauses, including about 57% of women. The Ending Forced Arbitration for Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act would void the legal provisions as they apply to survivors, allowing them to seek justice and discuss their cases publicly, and eliminating institutional protection for harassers.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at
Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, economy, and identity.