Fox News Lawsuit Exposes Employer Arbitration Agreements
Saturday, October, 15, 2016
Forced arbitration by employers was part of the recent agreement by Fox News to pay former anchor Gretchen Carlson $20 million and apologize for the sexual harassment she experienced while working for the company. The settlement and apology came in part because she had the ability and exposure to share her story with others, but lesser-known employees lack this power. The events occurred because Carlson pushed back against the forced arbitration agreement in her contract that was designed to keep her quiet with her allegations.
Carlson filed her lawsuit mid-summer and alleged then-head of Fox News Roger Ailes subjected her to humiliating sexual harassment during her 11 years with the company. Ailes’ attorney argued the arbitration clause in her contract barred her from speaking publicly about her accusations or from taking her allegations into the courtroom.
Forced arbitration clauses are common in legal agreements, especially employment agreements and employee handbooks. Employees who believe they faced discrimination, harassment, or other violations of employment law, are forced into arbitration, removing their ability to take their employer to court. This allows employers to hide the accusations from the public eye and prevent employees from engaging in expensive and time-consuming lawsuits.
Legal experts familiar with and advocating against employer forced arbitration agreements believe they are especially disadvantageous to women in the working world because of sexual harassment. They pointed to the Carlson case as evidence and believe that if Carlson would not have had the star power to speak out, many other female employees of Fox News would not have had the opportunity to take action.