After decades of being silenced, survivors of workplace sexual harassment and assault will finally have their day in court.
Most Americans spend much of their waking hours at work. We spend more time working than anywhere else. For many of us, this is where we want to be, thriving in careers that provide a livelihood for our families, that give us personal and professional satisfaction and that we have spent years, if not decades, establishing.
But for far too many workers, this is not the case.
Workplace harassment, disparagement, assault and retaliation are all too common. Nationwide, women and men continue to grapple with toxic work environments. To make matters worse, survivors are silenced by workplace concealment clauses that serve only to protect predators and perpetuate a system of abuse. Too often, workers are not aware that they must remain silent until they attempt to speak out.
Nondisclosure agreements and forced arbitration clauses have crept their way into the American workplace, silencing survivors and preventing them from coming forward to share their personal horror stories. These clauses are buried in millions of standard contracts nationwide, and most workers are unaware that they have given up their right to sue or even speak out about workplace toxicity when signing routine paperwork to start a job. In this way, employers sweep toxic behavior under the rug, protect abusers, and deny survivors a fair chance to seek justice and accountability against those that have harmed them.
The professional and psychological effects of these silencing mechanisms are staggering and all-consuming. Imagine being unable to tell a future employer why you left your job or having to craft a narrative that doesn’t acknowledge the harrowing experience you went through. Imagine being prevented from sharing your story with colleagues, family and friends, and being unable to seek their support as you process these events. NDAs and forced arbitration exist to isolate survivors from those around them.
But there is hope on the horizon.
It’s Time to Lift Our Voices
In 2016, Gretchen filed a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit personally against Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes because a forced arbitration clause in her contract prevented her from suing Fox News in open court. Ten months later, Julie was only able to sue Fox News, Ailes and Ailes’s successor for sexual harassment and retaliation only because her Fox News contract did not contain an arbitration clause.
But to this day, a nondisclosure agreement prevents either of us from ever sharing details publicly about our experiences, even though they may help other survivors seek justice from their predators and hold perpetrators and their enablers accountable.
Most workers are unaware they have given up their right to sue or even speak out about workplace toxicity when signing routine paperwork to start a job.
Determined to prevent these injustices from happening to anyone else, we founded Lift Our Voices, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating forced arbitration and NDAs for toxic workplace issues. As survivors, we have made it our mission to protect and empower anyone affected by workplace discrimination and toxicity, including women, people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and other traditionally disenfranchised groups. And after years of hard work and determination, we are one step closer to creating a more just world for workers—one where survivors are heard, not silenced.
Giving Survivors of Workplace Assault or Harassment the Right To Choose How They Seek Justice
For five years, Gretchen has spearheaded the effort to pass the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, which bans forced arbitration in workplace sexual assault and harassment cases and allows survivors to file lawsuits against perpetrators. The bill is the first major piece of legislation to come out of the #MeToo movement and is a giant step forward in fostering a workplace ecosystem that protects and uplifts survivors.
Gretchen brought together lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to pass this critical legislation. On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed the bill into law after it passed the Senate by unanimous consent in an unprecedented show of bipartisanship.
After decades of being silenced, survivors of sexual harassment and assault will finally have their day in court.
The Path Forward
This historic law is a major step in our mission to level the playing field for survivors of workplace toxicity. Now, we are committed to extending these protections to workers who have been discriminated against based on race, gender, age and other protected characteristics. And we will continue to fight at the state and federal levels to end NDAs for toxic workplace issues.
But our mission will continue until workers everywhere have the right to share their stories publicly, without fear of retaliation. This grassroots movement—fueled by survivors who are tired of watching predators protected at the expense of survivors—is only getting started.