Microsoft backs bill to end forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims

Microsoft backs bill to end forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims
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Microsoft on Tuesday endorsed a Senate bill that would prohibit employers from using forced arbitration agreements on claims of workplace sexual harassment.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a blog post Tuesday that, even though the bill is still awaiting a vote, the company would also be ending its own requirement that employees’ sexual harassment claims be handled through the arbitration process.

“The easiest mistake any employer can make is to assume that ‘this could never happen here,’ ” Smith wrote. “While it’s natural to hope and believe that’s the case, one of the fundamental lessons of recent months is that people’s voices need to be heard if their problems are to be addressed.”

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Smith said that Microsoft is the first Fortune 100 company to endorse the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017, which was introduced earlier this month by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks MORE (R-S.C.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Former aide says she felt 'abandoned' by Democrats who advanced Garcetti nomination as ambassador to India Schumer vows to push forward with filibuster change: 'The fight is not over' MORE (D-N.Y.). The lawmakers argue that forcing harassment claims to go through the arbitration process tips the scales in the company’s favor and lets alleged perpetrators off the hook.

According to Smith, Microsoft has never used the arbitration process to settle harassment claims. He said that Graham brought up the issue when the two met recently to discuss cybersecurity.

“As he pointed out, as many as 60 million Americans today have no legal ability to bring a sexual harassment claim in court because they work under an employment contract that requires that all such claims be subject exclusively to private arbitration,” Smith said.

Gillibrand and Graham introduced the bill this month alongside Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News host who sued Roger Ailes, the late former CEO of the company, for sexual harassment.

“Forced arbitration is a harasser’s best friend,” Carlson said in a statement at the time. “It keeps harassment complaints and settlements secret. It allows harassers to stay in their jobs, even as victims are pushed out or fired. It silences other victims who may have stepped forward if they’d known. It’s time we as a nation - together - in bipartisan fashion give a voice back to victims.”