In a significant win for the #MeToo movement, the U.S. Senate passed a bill on Thursday, February 10, 2021, which ensures that employees who are sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace can pursue their claims in court.  The bill invalidates pre-dispute agreements that require individuals to arbitrate claims related to sexual harassment or sexual assault.

The bill, which was passed with bi-partisan support and is expected to be signed by President Biden, is the result of public pressure to allow victims of sexual harassment and assault to have their day in court and publicly discuss their allegations rather than being forced to have their claims heard behind closed doors in confidential arbitration proceedings.

Notably, the bill applies both prospectively and retroactively, voiding existing agreements or mandatory arbitration clauses that apply to sexual assault and sexual harassment claims.  The bill does not impact arbitration rules or bar arbitration of these types of claims entirely.  Rather, it gives employees the choice to pursue their claims in court, rather than arbitration, and it preserves their right to make that choice after a claim has arisen.

Given the frequency with which mandatory arbitration clauses are included in employment-related agreements, this legislation will likely result in a significant uptick in workplace sexual harassment and assault cases filed in state and federal court.  It will also result in a public airing of cases involving high profile alleged harassers who have previously been able to shield claims against them from public scrutiny in private arbitration.

Contact our employment law team for help reviewing and revising employment agreements to conform to the new legislation, as well as preparing and delivering workplace harassment training to employees.

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Photo of Courtney Turkington Courtney Turkington

Courtney Turkington is a member of the firm’s Commercial Litigation group in New Orleans. She received her Juris Doctor, summa cum laude, from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in 2018.

Prior to joining the firm, Courtney served as a law…

Courtney Turkington is a member of the firm’s Commercial Litigation group in New Orleans. She received her Juris Doctor, summa cum laude, from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in 2018.

Prior to joining the firm, Courtney served as a law clerk to the Honorable Carl J. Barbier of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and a judicial extern to the Honorable Ivan L.R. Lemelle of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Photo of Kindall C. James Kindall C. James

Kindall James is a labor and employment lawyer who helps her clients resolve difficult HR and personnel issues that run the gamut from employees sending inappropriate emails, text messages, and strange pictures to one another, to more serious issues involving workplace violence and…

Kindall James is a labor and employment lawyer who helps her clients resolve difficult HR and personnel issues that run the gamut from employees sending inappropriate emails, text messages, and strange pictures to one another, to more serious issues involving workplace violence and threats.  She counsels employers, business owners and managers, and defends them in a wide variety of employment-related disputes in the state and federal courts of Texas and Louisiana.  This includes defending employers against claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ERISA, and other federal and state laws. Kindall also handles claims involving non-compete agreements, trade secrets, and unfair trade practices and competition.

Photo of Thomas J. McGoey II Thomas J. McGoey II

Tommy is the leader of the firm’s commercial litigation practice group and a member of the firm’s Board of Directors. He is a go-to labor and employment lawyer with experience throughout Louisiana and the U.S. With his nearly 35 years of experience, he…

Tommy is the leader of the firm’s commercial litigation practice group and a member of the firm’s Board of Directors. He is a go-to labor and employment lawyer with experience throughout Louisiana and the U.S. With his nearly 35 years of experience, he helps employers across a wide range of industries with contentious human resources claims and issues, both inside and outside the courtroom. Most recently, he has guided employers through a range of concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.