What Women Need to Know About Forced Arbitration

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You may know the name Lilly Ledbetter.  In 1979, she was hired by Goodyear Tire. Upon her retirement twenty years later, Ms. Ledbetter filed a lawsuit against her former employer for paying her notably less than her male colleagues. The Supreme Court eventually denied her claim due to the fact that she did not bring the lawsuit 180 days from her first paycheck. However, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in response, which loosened timeline parameters for discrimination suits.  Lilly Ledbetter is a woman that will undoubtedly be remembered by history as a game-changer for women’s rights. However, if her employment contract with Goodyear had included a forced arbitration clause, none of us would be speaking her name now.  Forced arbitration clauses stop us from enforcing the statutes that protect our rights in court.  If Lilly Ledbetter had been forced into arbitration with Goodyear, her case never would have been given a voice in the public square and the changes that her case brought about, including groundbreaking new legislation, would never have happened.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month this March, we remember the strength and determination of the trail-blazers who challenged the status quo and advocated to advance legislation that supported women’s rights in every segment of society, from the home, to schools, to the workplace. Until now, a pivotal component of this fight has been overlooked.  We must put the focus on preserving the groundwork laid by courageous women of the past. We must fight take away the ability of companies to violate the rights of women by forcing arbitration on them and removing their rights to bring their cases before a public judicial body.  Most Americans haven’t even heard of forced arbitration, but it is leaving an indelible mark on future generations by silencing the important court-room battles that set precedents and bring about significant and lasting societal change.

We are bombarded with forced arbitration clauses daily.  Just by buying a product or service, we can lose the right to hold a company accountable. Even if a retirement account disappears, a home or car is dangerous and defective, or a loved one suffers harm in a nursing home, a forced arbitration clause means there is no right to take the company responsible to court. We should never have to give up our rights just to do the everyday things in our lives. 

Forced arbitration also removes a woman’s right to enforce the very laws in court that were created to move women forward in society.  Because of this, forced arbitration undercuts and destabilizes statutes such as the Equal Pay Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and more.  We must keep intact the legacies of the tireless advocates who battled for these landmark laws advancing the protection of women’s rights.

Congressional action is needed NOW to stop forced arbitration, and the voices it silences and removes from history. Without our immediate response, corporations will carry on eradicating women’s access to justice and limiting the enforceability and scope of these crucial statutes.

The time to act is now. This Women’s History Month, take a step that will both preserve the work of our forbearers and may even change the course of women’s history as we know it. Make your voice heard by encouraging members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to preserve these important federal laws by co-sponsoring the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2013 (AFA) [S.878 / H.R.1844] and stopping forced arbitration.

The AFA would eliminate forced arbitration in employment, consumer, civil rights, and anti-trust cases, thus reinstating deep-seated rights created by state and federal laws that are currently at risk of endangerment due to this abusive corporate practice.

Don’t let women’s rights be lost forever to history because they were buried in the deceptive, unconscionable act of forced arbitration.