Congress has passed a law that will end forced arbitration for sexual assault and harassment claims. This is a landmark decision that will remove roadblocks to justice for victims. However, this could also complicate things for those wrongly accused of sexual assault. Keep reading for more information.
The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021
H.R. 4445 is a short and straightforward bill compared to others put forth on the issue of sexual assault and harassment. Essentially, it is an amendment to the Federal Arbitration Act to make it easier for victims to bring a lawsuit to court without being forced to arbitrate their claims.
According to H.R. 4445:
- Plaintiffs (victims) have the choice to litigate their assault or harassment claim through arbitration or in court. These individuals are not required to sign an agreement limiting their legal remedies to arbitration and pursue legal action as they choose.
- Plaintiffs can bring a lawsuit individually or through a class-action lawsuit regardless of whether they signed an agreement to waive their collective legal action rights.
- H.R. 4445 will apply if approved by a federal judge, not an arbitrator.
- This law will apply retroactively. Existing force arbitration contracts are voidable, but prior cases completed through arbitration cannot be reopened in court.
- H.R. 4445 is not limited to workplace assault and harassment claims. According to the law, clients and customers can file a lawsuit. This is because most consumer relationships require a contract forcing the signer to arbitrate legal claims of sexual assault or harassment.
The purpose of this law aims to empower victims to have their day in court and force companies to address sexual assault and harassment claims instead of pushing them under the rug. Essentially, the goal is transparency – instead of backroom agreements, companies will have to face the court.
While this law is important, it may have negative consequences for victims of sexual assault. Companies, especially those with a history of arbitration over legal action, may work harder to prevent sexual assault claims from seeing the light of day.
They may invest more money into paying off victims or squashing rumors than preventing sexual assault and harassment in the first place. These court cases are not televised or publicized on the whole, but companies are well aware that any accusations will come to light eventually.
If companies act this way, they may leave the door open for harassers to find new victims. If the bad actor is not identified or punished publically, they can continue to harass and prey upon their fellow workers.
Consequences for the Wrongly Accused
Wrongful accusations of sexual assault are damaging enough, but if a person is accused and the case falls under H.B. 4445, they may not be able to prove their innocence easily. Arbitration gives each party the chance to voice their concerns and their side of the situation without the fear of criminal sentencing. In many cases, the person accused of harassment will offer monetary reparations to the victim, or they may be able to reach another agreement.
Without the opportunity for arbitration, those wrongly accused of a crime face criminal charges and a lifetime of punishment and shame for a crime they did not commit. There is always a chance that they will be found innocent in court, but juried sexual assault trials rarely go in favor of the perpetrator.
If you have been wrongly accused of sexual assault or harassment, contact The Law Office of David A. Webster, P.A., and protect your rights.