‘You don’t have a voice:’ Congress weighs impact of forced arbitration on employees

WASHINGTON D.C. — For almost 50 years, Joanne Grace worked as a registered nurse. It was a job she loved and said she planned to keep doing as long as she was useful and effective.


But around age 71, Grace said she was unfairly pushed out by her former employer because of her age.

She said older employees were being steadily let go and replaced by younger workers.

“You work all your life and expect just fairness from your employer,” Grace told our Washington News Bureau.

Grace sued for age discrimination but said her former employer has been trying to silence her through the legal process of forced arbitration.

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That’s when companies force employees to sign away their rights to sue, often as a condition of employment.

Grace said she never signed such an agreement but was told by her former employer that the process applied to her because her name was on a list for a training seminar about arbitration. Grace said she never attended that training.

On Tuesday, Grace testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her experience.

“As long as Congress allows companies to sweep accountability under the rug, they will continue to do just that,” said Grace. “Allowing forced arbitration really has destroyed my dignity.”

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The committee weighed these kinds of employee experiences with forced arbitration.

It’s an issue former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson knows about first-hand. She also testified before the panel.

“Most people have no idea what forced arbitration means,” said Carlson in her testimony. “Employees have no idea that signing on the dotted line accepting a forced arbitration clause can strip them of their rights for future justice.”

Carlson shared her experience fighting forced arbitration by her former employer Fox News, after suing the former network head for sexual misconduct.

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“When you’re forced into the secret chamber of arbitration, you don’t have a voice and you don’t have a choice,” Carlson told our Washington News Bureau. “The operative word is forced. If it’s so wonderful for all American workers, why do companies force them into it?”

Carlson helped push for a bipartisan law Congress passed banning forced arbitration in employment lawsuits for sexual misconduct.

Now, there’s a push to expand those protections to older Americans and people who experience race discrimination at work.

The Protecting Older Americans Act prohibits forced arbitration for age discrimination claims in the workplace.

The Ending Forced Arbitration of Race Discrimination Act would prohibit the practice of forcing employees who experienced racial discrimination at work into arbitration.

But some witnesses cautioned against expanding the ban on forced arbitration, arguing the process can benefit employers.

“The cost of arbitration is far less than litigation,” said Victor Schwartz, co-Chair of the Public Policy Practice Group for the law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP. “Claimants benefit because it’s simpler.”

“It has been used as a beneficial tool to be certain that you don’t get trapped into lengthy and costly litigation,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

Advocates like Grace, meanwhile, are urging Congress to focus on passing more protections for workers.

“I should be able to speak out for what I believe,” said Grace. “Congress needs to help get this bill passed so that it can give an older American an even playing field.”

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