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March 10, 2014

Fair Arbitration Now Coalition

Forced Arbitration: The Stealth War on Women’s Rights

Women have come too far to be forced back by injustice buried in the fine print

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Five laws key to ensuring women’s rights are increasingly being rendered unenforceable because of forced arbitration, demonstrating the need for Congress to act, the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition said today.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the coalition called on members of Congress to co-sponsor the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2013 (AFA) [S.878 /H.R.1844], which would ban forced arbitration of most disputes. In addition, coalition partners are encouraging individuals to contact members of Congress and urge them to co-sponsor the measure.

Buried in the fine print of everything from employee handbooks and loan applications to website terms of service and even contracts for children to attend camp, forced arbitration clauses eliminate access to the courts where women can assert their rights. They replace our civil justice system with Big Business’s own secretive dispute mill.

“The Fair Arbitration Now Coalition honors the character, courage and commitment of advocates who fought to pass landmark laws that paved the way for women to pursue lives of financial and social independence,” said Ellen Taverna legislative director with the National Association of Consumer Advocates. “We seek to preserve that legacy by revoking corporations’ license to violate these laws through forced arbitration.”

With forced arbitration, corporations are rendering unenforceable fundamental rights granted by historic legislation, including:

- Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, which protects employees from discrimination and prohibits sexual harassment;
- Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits employers from paying women less than their male counterparts for performing the same work;
- Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which reversed a bad U.S. Supreme Court decision and restored the long-standing interpretation of civil rights laws that allowed employees to challenge every discriminatory paycheck;
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which made it illegal to fire or refuse to hire a woman because they are pregnant; and
- Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which allows employees to take unpaid leave for medical conditions, pregnancy and to care for a sick family member.

Dr. Deborah Pierce of Philadelphia experienced the problem firsthand. Despite two highly productive and rewarding years working for a physician practice group in Philadelphia, Pierce was denied a promotion and her agreement was not renewed. At the same time, male counterparts with less experience and histories of performance problems were made partners. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in Pierce’s favor. But despite a mountain of evidence against her employer, her case was thrown out of court because of a forced arbitration clause in her employment agreement.

The choice was to “either accept the terms of the agreement, including the mandatory arbitration provision, or refuse it and not get the job,” Pierce testified to Congress.

Pierce should have been protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits gender discrimination in hiring and promoting employees, but her employer evaded this landmark law through the abusive practice of forced arbitration.

“As employees, students, mothers, caregivers and consumers, women deserve fair and equal treatment under the law,” said Julie Strandlie legislative and public policy director with the National Employment Lawyers Association. “We urge Congress to act now.”

Added Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel for Public Citizen, “Laws to prevent discrimination and other violations of women and consumer rights in general sometimes are rendered meaningless by the corporate fine print. Congress should pass the Arbitration Fairness Act to restore our access to justice.”

For more information, please visit www.fairarbitrationnow.org.

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The Fair Arbitration Now Coalition advocates to end mandatory binding arbitration. Its organizations represent millions of individual members interested in protecting the rights of all Americans – particularly the rights of consumers, employees, homeowners, and the elderly, as well as preserving our hard-won civil rights.

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