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Microsoft ends forced arbitration requirements

Mandatory arbitration has been a major obstacle for pursuing sexual harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination and other civil litigation concerning employment. Microsoft took a step to remove this difficulty by removing forced arbitration clauses from its employment contracts last month.

Forced obligation provisions require employees to bring these claims to a private arbitrator instead of court. The results often remained sealed and undisclosed, and the conduct may continue because of this secrecy.

Microsoft announced on December 19 that it reviewed its internal policies and decided to eliminate this clause from contracts that governed a small number if its employees. It also voided this requirement in existing contracts.

The company's move was prompted by the recent "#MeToo" movement. Shortly before its announcement, unsealed documents were released concerning a 2014 class action lawsuit against Microsoft that alleged gender discrimination. An intern claimed that another intern at the company assaulted her at an event after work. Although she filed a police report and told her supervisor, Microsoft still made her work with the alleged rapist and hired him at the end of his internship.

The company also became the first Fortune 100 company to endorse a bipartisan bill, the Ending Forced Arbitration Act of 2017, that was introduced last December. If enacted, the bill would give sex discrimination victims the right to file these claims in court regardless of mandatory arbitration contracts.

This bill was supported by former Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson. A mandatory arbitration clause in her employment contract prevented her from filing a lawsuit against Fox News over alleged harassment perpetrated by its late chairman, Roger Ailes. She ultimately and successfully sued Ailes directly.

Until the passage of this bill and the elimination of mandatory arbitration contracts, aggrieved employees must overcome this legal struggle to pursue their harassment and discrimination claims. An attorney can help provide available options to pursue their claims and challenge these clauses.

Source: American Association for Justice Trial News, "Microsoft voids forced arbitration clauses in employee contracts for claims of sex discrimination, harassment," Diane M. Zhang, Jan. 25, 2018

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