Mandatory Arbitration Gets Googled

Mandatory arbitration gets googled, a group of Democratic lawmakers today announced a bill to end the practice of forced arbitration, an issue that was recently pressed by Google employee organizers, who appeared alongside lawmakers during the announcement.

Mandatory arbitration clauses, frequently inserted into contracts, require employees and others to waive their right to sue. Instead, complaints are funneled through a private system. The practice, critics of the widespread system say, gives employers the upper hand in disputes.

Calling the practice “fundamentally unfair and un-American,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act, or FAIR Act, was about “guaranteeing every individual their day in court. The bill, which has been introduced previously, was re-introduced in the House of Representatives.

Last week, after protests from workers, Google announced that it would end forced arbitration for all disputes, a decision expanding on a previous announcement that it would halt the practice in cases of sexual harassment and assault. Organizers said at the time that, after the victory, they would be meeting with lawmakers to discuss legislation on the issue.

The bill announced today does not apply specifically to any one industry, but Google workers appeared alongside the lawmakers as part of the announcement, along with others affected by forced arbitration. Tanuja Gupta, a Google worker who has organized employee protests, said at the conference that the time has come to end forced arbitration,” and noted that some tech companies had “slowly” relented on forced arbitration policies.

“We come here today not as employees at the same company, or as even colleagues in tech, but as six of the 60 million workers in America that are denied access to justice,” she said.

Google workers support proposed US laws to curb mandatory arbitration, as lawmaker says he wants to guarantee individuals their day in court.

Six Google employees have joined US lawmakers to support bills that would ban mandatory arbitration in employment and consumer contracts. The workers are seeking to get the Alphabet Inc company to drop some arbitration provisions.

Avoiding public scrutiny

A major target for workers’ rights activists in recent years, mandatory arbitration is seen as a way for businesses facing harassment and discrimination allegations to avoid public scrutiny. Tanuja Gupta, a New York-based Google employee, said ‘we cannot have an honest conversation about labour rights or restoring consumer protections until we pull back the curtain of forced arbitration, which denies employees and consumers of their ability to fully and publicly vindicate their rights.’

Thousands of Google workers briefly walked off the job in November as part of a demonstration organized by Ms Gupta and others to advocate for workplace policy changes, including on arbitration. Business groups and lobbyists argue arbitration provides timely resolutions and that lawsuits benefit lawyers more than plaintiffs. However, last week Google became the latest tech company to announce it would no longer require employees to arbitrate employment disputes.

‘Day in court’

The Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act and several pieces of related legislation would ensure individual and class-action lawsuits are an option in a variety of disputes, members of Congress said at a news conference. Democratic lawmakers want to curtail mandatory arbitration before but have hitherto failed to gain support from Republican colleagues. However, Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal said he expected the FAIR Act to at least pass the Democrat-controlled House this year. He said, ‘this bill is about guaranteeing every individual their day in court.’

Md Sahabuddin Mondal

Junior Advocate, Calcutta High Court

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