For every public sexual harassment lawsuit covered by the media, there are countless others that never see the light of day. While it may appear a victory for Gretchen Carlson, who received a $20 million settlement from Fox News in response to her complaint against the network regarding the alleged sexual harassment she endured from then-CEO Roger Ailes, it’s anything but. That’s because it was a rip-off. As part of her settlement clause, Carlson is barred from ever discussing the details of the case in public ever again, likely due to a non-disclosure agreement that effectively protects the corporate giant from being held accountable for any misdeeds then, or in the future. However, it is quite possible she wouldn’t have been able to release any details no matter what based on the fine print of her employment contract known as forced arbitration, better referred to as a “ripoff clause.” This clause stipulates any allegations brought against a company for which an employee works or a consumer spends will be removed from public courts and settled by private firms paid for by the accused in secret in order to protect the company’s public image. And this doesn’t just go for the rich and famous; everyone is subject to this type of undeserved action, they probably just don’t know it.
Consumers typically have no idea what they are agreeing to when signing a contract for things like a credit card, bank loan, student loan or job. These contracts are specifically designed to mislead and misguide people who are simply looking to improve their quality of life. They are also designed to strip any rights we may have to getting our day in court should we experience harassment, discrimination or the unlawful withholding of money we legitimately earned by prohibiting us from being able to sue in a court of law. According to a 2015 Arbitration Study presented to Congress, “Ripoff clauses are used by 86% of the largest private student loan lenders, 53% of the credit card market, and are found in 99% of payday loan agreements. Perhaps worse, fewer than 7% of the consumers have any idea contracts they signed prevent them from suing in court.” In addition to giving up the right to sue, employees and customers are often barred from participating in any class action suit, thereby allowing these companies to laud the perpetrators while continuing to break the law in the absence of any legal consequence.
Roger Ailes, who resigned his position in the wake of the numerous complaints of sexual harassment lodged against him, was given a $40 million severance package upon his departure from the network. Nevermind the fact he was accused of reducing Carlson’s salary, limiting her on-air time and failing to renew her contract after she rebuffed his unwanted (and unwarranted) sexual advances. When Carlson came to him to discuss her feelings about being treated unfairly in the workplace, Ailes allegedly responded by saying, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.” If that doesn’t scream rewarding the predator, I don’t know what does.
While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been vocal about the immorality of forced arbitration for years, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has newly suggested a regulation to protect the “little people” from the clause by limiting its use among big businesses. As of August 2016, 281 small business, consumer advocacy, labor and civil rights groups, as well over 100,000 private consumers, have written in support of the proposed rule. Additionally, “Twenty employment groups and labor unions, led by the National Employment Law Project, submitted a separate letter in support.”
We are being stripped of our basic human rights on a daily basis and for the most part, don’t even realize it. How are average citizens supposed to get ahead when they can’t even trust their place of employment or the corporations they spend their hard-earned money on to follow the law on their behalf? Enough is enough. The time for revolution is now, but we all must be willing to stand together in the fight against the almighty powers that continue to dictate our lives and, most importantly, our livelihoods.