New ruling may bring more harassment cases to court.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is always a serious matter. For affected individuals, being a victim of sexual harassment can have a lasting, profound impact on quality of life. For businesses, there is serious legal exposure to be concerned about, although that risk was historically mitigated in part by requirements that could force claims into arbitration rather than in open court. However, that is now changing. As a result of a recent ruling, more and more employers may find themselves in court defending against sexual harassment lawsuits.
At the heart of this issue is a longstanding tradition of businesses forcing sexual harassment cases into arbitration rather than dealing with them in a standard lawsuit. In arbitration, their losses can be mitigated, and the degree to which the company’s “dirty laundry” is aired can be limited. That’s not the case when the business faces a lawsuit instead, so obviously, companies have always preferred the arbitration path.
Traditionally, businesses would ensure that arbitration would be the only option available to employees by having them sign an agreement at the time of employment. That way, if a sexual harassment matter arose, the only option available to the employee would be an arbitration hearing, which is kept confidential.
With a ruling leaning on new federal law to ban such agreements, a case against Everyrealm Inc. is now going to head to a lawsuit instead. As these types of cases get more and more attention, other workers will realize they may not be bound by their arbitration agreement, and may strive to fight in open court, as well.
This is notable news because of the frequency of sexual harassment in the workplace. Many thousands of cases are reported each year, unfortunately, and the number has been on the rise in recent years following the ever-growing popularity of the #MeToo movement. Of course, even those thousands and thousands of reported cases and allegations only tell a fraction of the story. There are countless more incidents of sexual harassment that go unreported, so it’s impossible to land on a number that truly represents the scope of this problem.
The problem of facing sexual harassment in the workplace is predominantly, but not entirely, one that women have faced. For the years 2018 – 2021, more than 78% of all charges were filed by females. This means that women are frequently having to deal with this illegal treatment, but it also means that male victims make up a meaningful percentage of the population, as well. With over 20% of alleged victims being men, it’s important to pay close attention to the problem of sexual harassment as a whole, giving victims of any gender the respect and protection they deserve.
More protections for employees against sexual harassment can only be seen as a good thing for fair and safe workplaces. While it’s yet to be seen how the law will play out – and legal matters are always in flux – this ruling is another step in favor of those who want to see employees protected and basic rights upheld on an individual level.