Microsoft removes mandatory arbitration clauses




Microsoft President Brad Smith
Microsoft

  • Microsoft is removing from employees’ contracts
    provisions that barred them from suing the company over sexual
    harassment claims.
  • Only a “small segment” of employees had the provisions,
    which require them to go to arbitration for such claims, in
    their contracts.
  • The change comes as Microsoft is supporting legislation
    that would ban such clauses from employment agreements at all
    companies.
  • Mandatory arbitration clauses have come under fire of
    late; critics charge that they silence victims of sexual
    misconduct.

Microsoft is making it easier for employees to sue the software
giant over sexual harassment.

The company is removing language found in some of its employees’
contracts that barred them from filing suit over workplace sexual
harassment claims. Previously, employees subject to the
provisions would have had to go to arbitration to resolve such
claims, a private process that can hide the identities of
repeated perpetrators.

“Because the silencing of voices has helped perpetuate sexual
harassment, the country should guarantee that people can go to
court to ensure these concerns can always be heard,” Brad Smith,
Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in a
blog post announcing the changes
. He added: “The easiest
mistake any employer can make is to assume that ‘this could never
happen here.'”

When a harassment case goes to private arbitration, a victim is
usually barred from publicly releasing any details, including the
names of any alleged harassers. Critics say that such provisions
effectively silence victims, allowing abuse to continue. 

Microsoft supports “The Ending of Forced Arbitration of Sexual
Harassment Act of 2017,” proposed legislation from senators
Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Lindsey Graham of South
Carolina that would end such provisions, Smith said. But as part
of supporting the bill, Microsoft reviewed its own contracts and
found that a “small segment of our employee population” had
arbitration clauses in their agreements, he said. The company
decided it couldn’t support the Gillibrand-Graham bill and
continue to include or enforce arbitration clauses in its own
employment contracts, he said.

The software giant is just one among many companies that have
included arbitration clauses in their employees contracts.
Companies often favor arbitration, because it can be less
expensive than a public trial and can allow them to avoid bad
publicity.

The issue of mandatory arbitration for harassment cases gained
national attention last year when
former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson sued network president
Roger Ailes
over alleged sexual misconduct. A mandatory
arbitration clause in her 11-year-old employment contract
prevented her from taking the matter to court, but her legal team
circumvented the matter by suing Ailes personally.

More than 56% of American workers — about 60 million — are
subject to mandatory arbitration clauses that cover all kinds of
claims, including sexual harassment, according to the
Economic Policy Institute’s
 survey of nonunion
private-sector employers.

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