We have written before about the many perils of “forced arbitration agreements” that are imposed by corporations on their employees in order to deprive them of their Constitutional right to trial by jury and to require instead that all disputes be taken to private, secret proceedings before individual arbitrators.
Everything that is wrong with forced arbitration was glaringly highlighted in a story just broken by the Washington Post on Monday, February 27, 2017. The Post article revealed the existence of a huge class action, now covering some 69,000 female employees, alleging sexual harassment and sex discrimination, brought against Sterling Jewelers, the multibillion-dollar parent corporation of both Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry – a case that had been going on for years, hidden from public view behind the cloak of forced arbitration.
The allegations of sexual harassment, if proven, are alarming. In the sworn statements just released, women managers reported on the details of conduct occurring at the company’s annual meetings, described by one employee as a “sex fest” and by another as an event where male executives “prowled around the (resort) like dogs that were let out of their cage,” according to the Post article. The papers filed in the arbitration proceeding also contain allegations of top executives of the company having sex with female employees and promoting women based upon how they responded to sexual demands.
Even though this case was initially filed back in 2008, the female employees’ sworn statements – many of which were written years ago — were only just brought to light as the result of an agreement reached in the arbitration proceeding to allow the employees’ lawyers to release them publicly. How or why just an agreement was finally reached was not revealed in the Post article.
The complaints of sexual harassment provide the context for the principal allegations in the case: the disparity in pay given to female store managers compared to the higher salaries paid to men.
But whether the issues involve sexual harassment or discrimination in pay, these are issues that need to be brought to the attention of the public, not hidden in a secret arbitration proceeding. Moreover, it is critical that employees like the ones here be afforded their Constitutional right to have the merits of their cases decided by a jury of their peers, and not by privately retained arbitrators. Unlike juries, arbitrators do not represent the “conscience of the community,” but instead decide cases based on their own individual viewpoints – ones that unfortunately often slant in favor of corporations.
Because of the threat posed by forced arbitration, we again encourage you to take whatever opportunities may be afforded you to speak out on this critical issue. For more information about forced arbitration and what can be done to oppose it, we encourage you to visit the website of the Employee Rights Advocacy Institute for Law and Policy at https://niwr.org/. Since its inception in 2008, the Institute has been working to end forced arbitration of workplace disputes, one of the most significant obstacles to the protection, enforcement, and vindication of employee rights.