RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi led a bipartisan coalition of 56 attorneys general Monday to urge House of Representatives and Senate leaders to enact legislation that protects victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Specifically, the legislation should end forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims, which are in fine print in many workplace contracts.
Many employers require employees to sign arbitration agreements that require sexual harassment claims to be resolved through arbitration rather than the court system. These clauses are often in the fine print of employment contracts and are not initially evident to employees.
"We need to get all of this out in the light," Stein said during a Skype call. "Bad actors at companies that are abusing their workers or harassing them, they have to be held accountable. Any person who has experienced sexual harassment who wants to go to court to vindicate their rights, which they have under the law, they should be able to do so."
All 56 members of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) signed on to this letter. It's the largest NAAG coalition since 2008.
In addition to giving workers protection against mandatory arbitration, Stein said it would also help address the secrecy requirements of arbitration clauses, in turn putting a stop to the culture of silence surrounding sexual harassment.
"In many mandatory arbitration provisions, that process is secretive," he said. "So if you go through it, one, your chances of winning might be kind of low and two, even if you win, other people in your company may not necessarily know that sexual harassment occurred and that there's someone taking advantage of people."
Stein says the letter will give anyone who wants to take legal action the ability to do so, which could empower others to come forward.
"If somebody has experienced sexual harassment and actually has the courage to complain and to get vindication, if they do it through mandatory arbitration and they win, they can't tell anyone," he said. "Another employee, who may be similarly experiencing that same type of harassment, won't have the courage to come forward.
"Conversely, if you win in court and you see that one of your co-workers is standing up, standing strong, and standing for what's right, and they identify who is a harasser on the job, then you're going to feel much braver about coming forward yourself."
With the legislation in both the House and Senate, this letter is a way for the attorneys general to urge legislators to make this a priority.
"This issue of sexual harassment at the workplace is so important that every single (attorney general) in the entire country, we're going to speak with one voice to urge Congress to take action," Stein said. "Too often there will be a lot of attention on an issue and Congress will talk about it, but they don't act. We wanted to make sure that this moment of awareness around sexual harassment doesn't pass without us making some important progress and protecting people."