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Employees of Government Contractors Shouldn’t Have to Arbitrate Discrimination and Harassment Claims

Aug. 24, 2016

Employees of Government Contractors Shouldn’t Have to Arbitrate Discrimination and Harassment Claims

Statement of Lisa Gilbert, Director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Note: Today, the Obama administration released final regulations and guidance implementing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order. The executive order, signed by President Barack Obama in July 2014, prohibits federal contractors with contracts in excess of $1 million from requiring employees to privately arbitrate claims brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or claims alleging sexual assault or harassment.

Public Citizen applauds the Obama administration for issuing new rules to ensure that government contractors – who are paid with taxpayer money – cannot evade federal anti-discrimination and sexual harassment laws by forcing their workers into arbitration proceedings. These rules are a critical component of the administration’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order.

Federal contractors and other employers routinely hide forced arbitration clauses in the fine print of contracts with their employees. These clauses require workers to give up their right to take their employer to court as a condition of employment. Workers subject to these clauses are forced to resolve disputes with their employers in corporate-friendly arbitration proceedings, held in secret with no judge, no jury and no meaningful opportunity to appeal. As a result, employer misconduct is covered up and employees’ claims go unheard in a court of law.

Anti-worker lawmakers continue to try to block the executive order’s implementation by attaching ideological riders to must-pass legislation that would either weaken or delay the executive order. For example, the latest draft of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 contains provisions that would exempt certain defense contractors from complying with the executive order. In addition, the 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill includes a provision that would eliminate funding to implement the executive order until the U.S. Government Accountability Office completes a study on the order’s effect on industries and federal agencies.

Public Citizen urges Congress to remove these dangerous and inappropriate riders and fully support the administration’s efforts to implement the executive order, which is critical to protecting workers under federal anti-discrimination laws.