Google workers reinforce introduction of FAIR law to end forced arbitration


Photo: Gizmodo / Melanie Ehrenkranz

Thursday afternoon, in a lively hall of the US Capitol, a group of survivors wearing black pins stands behind a podium with the title #EndForcedArbitration. They are all waiting to share their stories – of sexual harassment, sexual assault, racial discrimination, unfair labor practices, exploitation by the consumer. The common thread between these disjointed individuals is that they have all been silenced, forced to settle their differences behind closed doors. Forced to give up their right to appear in court.

"I stand in front of you with workers from all walks of life, as well as survivors of assault and harassment, consumers who have been stolen from them illegally, families who can not get justice for a loved one in a retirement home and a marine. A reservist who was fired for taking time to serve his country, "Tanuja Gupta, Google program manager and Google walkout organizer, told a news conference Thursday.

Last week, Google announced the elimination of forced arbitration for all employees. Gupta, who is now helping lead efforts to end forced arbitration, has partnered with five other Google employees for the trip to California this week to strengthen efforts to end the Forced arbitration across the United States.

Thursday's press conference focused on the introduction of the Forced Arbitration (FAIR) Law, which would ban forced arbitration agreements for employees and subcontractors, as well as agreements prohibiting individuals from bringing a class action.

When you sign a contract with a forced arbitration clause, you waive your case to be heard by a jury trial. You also waive your right to appeal and, often, bring a class action. Instead, your case is heard by an outside party, an arbitrator, who settles the dispute in private. According to a study conducted in 2017 by the Institute for the Defense of Workers' Rights for Law and Policy, 80% of the country's largest companies have settled a labor dispute by arbitration since 2010. Of these, half were settled by forced arbitration.

Critics have increasingly denounced the use of forced arbitration by Silicon Valley companies over the last few years, resulting in collective actions pushing some of these companies to adopt more equitable work practices. . In December 2017, Microsoft was the first to announce that it was removing mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment complaints. Uber, Google, Facebook, eBay and Airbnb have followed suit.

Originally, many of these companies have waived these clauses only for sexual harassment complaints. Employees who are victims of racial discrimination in the workplace have still not been able to have their case heard by a jury. In addition, these changes were not extended to subcontractors – a significant component of the information technology workforce – or to those seeking to pursue a class action. The FAIR law would eliminate unfair labor practices, not only for some but for all – employees, contractors and consumers.

"We have seen some companies trying to create policies surgically, only engraving in a narrow category of cases where justice could be done," Gupta told the assembled crowd in DC. "But workers continued to beat the drum of intersectionality and the root cause of any inequality: the structural imbalances of power. And slowly, some companies began to yield, putting in place policies that eliminated forced arbitration. "

Michael Subit, an attorney specializing in employee discrimination and harassment cases, told Gizmodo that last November, Google had given up solely to forced arbitration for sexual harassment, claiming that when companies no They did not eliminate agreements for all forms of misconduct, they transmitted "Do not do it for the reasons they say, but simply because they are afraid of reprisals". And for people with multiple claims, such as a woman of color who has been a victim of both sexual harassment and racial discrimination … they would be forced to bring a case to arbitration and another to litigation. "From the point of view of efficiency," says Subit, "it's not a way to run a railroad."

Survivors at the press conference illustrated the different ways in which the obligation to resort to arbitration has affected their rights. Gretchen Carlson, who started a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News president Roger Ailes in 2016. Carlson told the crowd that many survivors had come out to share their experiences of pain and suffering. shame with her. shared with me is the way they were silenced, "she said." You see, arbitration is the stalker's best friend because it silences all the victims. "

Kelly, a Kentucky woman, is joining Carlson. She said her mother, a union leader who fought for the rights of teachers, was "severely abused" in a retirement home. When Kelly tried to hold the retirement home to account, she was forced into arbitration.

Richard and Levi, from New York and Ohio respectively, were employed in Chipotle. They claimed that Chipotle automatically synchronized them and forced them to continue working without pay. When Richard complained, he was fired. Levi described it as "treated like a robot". The two former employees said they were forced into arbitration to settle their disputes with the company.

Lily, from California, said she was sexually assaulted by massage therapist Massage Envy. She sued the company. For a year and a half after her assault, she tried to cancel her membership in the company and finally decided to download the Massage Envy app to cancel it. The contract of use of the application contained a forced arbitration clause, and the company is now trying to force Lily to arbitration. "I did not want to be a victim," she said. "Forced arbitration is robbing me of my rights."

Neither Chipotle nor Massage Envy immediately responded to a request for comment.

Glenda and Peter Perez, a married couple from Florida, both worked for the same company. Glenda said that when she denounced racial discrimination two years ago, she had been fired and forced to arbitration. Her husband, Peter, later claimed to have seen a referee's photo "co-bridled" with his employer's lawyer at a party. When he complained, he was also fired.

"We're counting on you," Glenda told the crowd, visibly strangled.

Photo: Gizmodo / Melanie Ehrenkranz

Each of the survivors wore black and white square pins reminiscent of the Time & # 39; s Up pins strung on the red carpet of the Golden Globes last year, a gesture to draw attention to the movement that served as the response to the flood of sexual harassment and allegations of aggression. in Hollywood and a push for racial and gender equality in the entertainment industry.

Gupta told me that she saw the fight further than a simple dispute in the strict sense, comparing it to the private prison system – a cheaper and faster method that benefits businesses but eventually erodes civil rights. It is a vital struggle to eliminate systemic discrimination and harassment at work. It's not just about giving victims the opportunity to appear in court. It's about putting an end to the corporate power cycle that allows companies to remain silent about wrongdoing by an author.

"We are in 2019," said Gupta closing his speech. "Time is up."

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