Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson will testify before Congress on forced arbitration laws after the election season. Carlson herself was subjected to forced arbitration under her contract when she sued then Fox News CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment.
Arbitration clauses are the fine print in contracts that forfeit an employee’s right to have a legal dispute with the company settled in court, instead forcing them into private proceedings. The proceedings are overseen by an arbiter or a judge but lack a public trial by jury and typically result in significantly lower settlements for the plaintiff. Arbitration clauses have been criticized as ways for major corporations to suppress their employee’s options for legal recourse and keep sexual harassment allegations secret.
Carlson’s lawyers attempted to get around her contract’s arbitration clause by suing Roger Ailes personally rather than Fox News. However, Fox stepped in and offered Carlson $20 million to end her lawsuit against Ailes, who retired from Fox with a $40 million severance package.
In wake of the media frenzy following her settlement, Carlson is forging an unlikely political alliance with Democratic Senators Al Franken and Patrick Leahy. Senator Al Franken introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act last year which would invalidate arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, civil rights, and antitrust claims. Under this law, sexual harassment victims who are subjected to arbitration would not be forced to solve their dispute in that way. Senator Leahy introduced the Resting Statutory Rights Act which stipulates that no arbitration agreement can make you waive statutory rights.
Carlson, who identifies as a feminist, is working to empower women and pledges to help fight to “change the system so that women feel safe,” as 25% of American women report experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.