Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News host whose 2016 sexual harassment lawsuit led to the downfall of network chief Roger Ailes, joined with senators on Capitol Hill on Thursday to celebrate the passage of legislation that prohibits employers from using forced arbitration clauses to shield such cases from public view.
The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent, after it passed the House overwhelmingly earlier this week. The legislation now goes to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it.
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The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act gives employees a choice of going to court to pursue sexual misconduct claims or through arbitration. Companies have routinely put forced arbitration clauses in contracts, meaning that private proceedings are held to resolve claims, often with terms that keep decisions confidential.
Carlson told reporters that she “never could have imagined” that, after filing her lawsuit against Ailes five years ago, “that I’d be standing here today with such an amazing bipartisan victory.”
“A dear friend of mine said to me back then, ‘You know Gretchen, something good is going to come out of this.’ I didn’t really see it that way at the time, but it turns out that she was right. A lot of good has come from my decision to come forward and speak for the millions of others who couldn’t.”
She said that the legislation “will allow survivors a choice — secret arbitration or the public courts. And I believe this bill will have a dual effect. It’s going to help companies get on the right side of history, that’s for sure. But it will also stop the bad behavior, because now the bad actors will know that women’s voices will be heard when they speak up about what’s really happening at work.”
Weeks after Ailes was forced to step down, Carlson reached a settlement, reported at $20 million, which included an apology from the network.
Other entertainment figures also have pressed lawmakers to pass the legislation. In a hearing in November, Eliza Dushku testified before the House Judiciary Committee about her experience on the set of CBS’ Bull.
Carlson appeared at the press conference under relatively unusual circumstances: Senators from both parties lauding passage of a new piece of legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was joined by other sponsors including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).
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