Up until now, there has been a practice in working life in the USA that was commonplace. Employment contracts contain clauses that force victims of sexual harassment in the workplace to settle out of court. A procedure that is extremely practical for the employer, because allegations of sexual assault remain under the covers and are not made public.
That is now a thing of the past. The new law passed by the US Congress prohibits these clauses in the employment contract. This is a tremendous achievement for the MeToo movement, said New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who helped push the law. The law will help fix a broken system that protects offenders and businesses, and it will put an end to the silencing of victims.
Gillibrand spoke of one of the most important workplace reforms in US history. Finally, those affected could go to court. "Sex victims will no longer be told they are legally prohibited from suing their employer because of an arbitration clause in their employment contract," the senator said.
It is noteworthy that the new law also applies retrospectively. Clauses in existing contracts are invalid. It is also noteworthy that for once Democrats and Republicans agreed on this initiative.
Gillibrand worked closely with her Republican counterpart, arch-conservative Senator Lindsay Graham, on the bill. Women and men now have the chance to be heard differently, said the Republican. "It's overdue. And the business world will become more professional."
"Laws are the only thing that endures"
A victim of sexual assault had also campaigned for the law. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson was harassed by her now-deceased boss. When she didn't reciprocate his advances, it hurt her career.
She said she never imagined anything good would come of it. "Marching the streets can inspire us. Editorials can open our minds. Hashtags can mobilize, but laws are the only things that endure."
Expensive court cases?
Business associations reacted skeptically to the reform and predicted lengthy and expensive legal proceedings. However, activists from the MeToo movement saw the new guidelines as a milestone. And as a law that will change the way sexual assault is dealt with in politics, business and show business – far beyond the borders of the USA.