February 11, 2022
Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, firstname.lastname@example.org, (412) 945-3242 or Katie Brown, email@example.com, (202) 207-2832
Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), with a 120+ year old mission to champion the interests of workers and consumers, is applauding the House of Representatives’ action to overwhelmingly pass the bipartisan bill H.R. 4445, the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021.”
The FAIR Act, passed with a 335-97 vote, creates a rare opportunity for employment legislation to pass Congress. The Senate is expected to pass the bill, and President Joe Biden has promised to sign it into law.
“I attended the press conference in 2017 where this bill was first introduced in the Senate. It was a powerful experience to stand with former Fox News Host Gretchen Carlson and then-Senator Al Franken (D-MN), the bill’s sponsor, and to hear her describe the sexual harassment she endured at Fox News and the forced arbitration language she had to sign when she joined the company Five years later, it’s exciting to see this bill pass the House and move on to the Senate,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director.
“This is a groundbreaking bill and a big win for people like Carlson, who are simply seeking their day in court,” said Greenberg. NCL joined a coalition of organizations that urged lawmakers to approve the legislation and has supported the rights of consumers, workers, and small businesses to be free from forced arbitration clauses, calling for passage of the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act.
H.R. 4445 upholds the right of those who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment in their workplace to hold the abusers accountable in court, rather than being sent to a closed-door arbitration forum often controlled by the employer or company.
“We believe the strong bipartisan support for this bill shows a clear recognition that forced arbitration is fundamentally unfair, hopefully signally a path to ending forced arbitration once and for all,” said Greenberg.
Forced arbitration provisions are ubiquitous in the fine print of contracts as a pre-condition for obtaining basic products and services such as a credit card, bank loan, apartment lease, or mobile phone. Arbitration is a skewed process, and fundamentally undemocratic because the law does not apply, there is no right of appeal, and the outcome is secret. The arbitrator, too often chosen by the corporation, is likely to heed the interests of the company in hopes of repeat business. And too often companies can dictate where the arbitration will take place, what the rules will be, and how the costs will be borne.
As a reference point, Consumer Reports reviewed consumer products in the most popular product categories it rates – and in two additional categories where safety is a paramount concern, bike helmets and child car seats – and published its findings in 2020. Of the 117 brand/category combinations examined, 60 percent included arbitration clauses.
Under the FAIR Act, introduced by Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), companies would be prohibited from requiring consumers, workers, and small family businesses to give up fundamental legal protections as a precondition for obtaining a product, service, or job. Once a dispute actually arises, and the stakes are clear, consumers, workers, or family businesses could choose arbitration if they determine it to be a better option than the courts.
“If — as so many businesses argue in support of arbitration — it is a process that is more favorable to consumers, then they will voluntarily choose it,” said Greenberg. “But never should arbitration be a consumer’s only choice. We applaud the House, the Senate and President Biden for their support of this landmark legislation.”
About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.