Leahy Reintroduces Legislation To Restore The Rights Of Americans Affected By Forced Arbitration

Senator Patrick Leahy on Tuesday reintroduced legislation to restore the rights of Americans who too often are forced out of the courthouse and into mandatory arbitration in civil rights cases, employment disputes, and other lawsuits.  Leahy was joined by Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), who is the lead cosponsor of the legislation. A House companion bill was introduced by Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.).

Leahy announced the reintroduction of his legislation at a Capitol Hill press conference featuring television journalist Gretchen Carlson, whose Fox News employment contract would have barred her from speaking publicly about her allegations of sexual harassment against former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes.

“When Americans enter into agreements to obtain cell phone service, rent an apartment, or accept a new job, most are not made aware of the forced arbitration clauses that are tucked away in the legal fine print.  But these dangerous provisions force us to abandon our Constitutional right to protect ourselves in court, and instead send hardworking Americans to face wealthy corporations behind closed-doors in private arbitration.  This must change,” Senator Leahy said. 

The Restoring Statutory Rights Act would ensure that when Congress or the states have created rights and remedies for injured victims, victims are able to enforce those rights and remedies in court.  It also makes clear that when states take action to address forced arbitration – as Vermont and other states have tried to do – federal law should not interfere.  

Leahy has long raised concerns about the practice of forced arbitration, including in hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee he convened in 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2013.  Last year he sent a letter to Wells Fargo’s CEO, asking him to immediately cease the practice of using forced arbitration after news reports revealed the company’s use of such clauses prevented customers whose names were used to open fraudulent accounts from seeking justice in court.

Leahy also joined Franken Tuesday in reintroducing the Arbitration Fairness Act to eliminate mandatory arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, civil rights, and antitrust cases.  Following a three-part investigation series by the New York Times highlighting the impact on consumers and workers of forced arbitration clauses that prevent individuals from seeking justice in court, Leahy and Franken also joined together in 2015 to press the leading providers of arbitration services to address concerns about the use of such agreements.

“For years, I've been fighting to re-open the courtroom doors to consumers, workers, and small businesses in Minnesota,” Senator Franken said.  “We must restore Americans’ right to challenge unfair practices in court and ensure meaningful legal recourse, because we’re at a point where big corporations can write their own rules and insulate themselves from liability for wrongdoing. That needs to change.”

“Forced arbitration is wrong. It stacks the deck against American workers. It empowers corporate special interests. That is outrageous. It needs to end. We need to empower people, not corporations,” Congressman Cicilline said.  “Enough is enough.  The Restoring Statutory Rights and Interests of the States Act will ensure that no arbitration agreement overrides state, federal, or constitutional protections.  When Congress or the states pass laws to establish rights, such as protections against workplace discrimination and harassment, they expect that these laws are actually enforceable in court.  It’s long past time that we give working Americans their rights back.”

Cosponsors of the Restoring Statutory Rights Act include Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.),and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).  The bill is supported by the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, the National Employment Lawyers’ Association, and consumer groups such as the National Association of Consumer Advocates, Consumers Union, Public Citizen, the National Consumer Law Center, and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. 

Text of the Restoring Statutory Rights Act is available online.

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