Conyers and Johnson Introduce Legislation to Equalize Women’s Pay, End Forced Arbitration
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law (RRCAL) Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA) introduced H.R. 4899, the Restoring Statutory Rights Act of 2016, legislation to ensure that state, federal, and constitutional rights of all Americans are enforceable.
“Forced arbitration clauses in countless employee and consumer contracts have whittled away our nation’s core civil rights protections. This concerning development has enabled widespread sex discrimination and systemic wage theft in the workplace. The Restoring Statutory Rights Act will turn the tide on these abuses and ensure women are not left shouldering the brunt of corporate lawlessness and institutional discrimination,” said Rep. John Conyers, Jr.
The Restoring Statutory Rights Act would ensure that when Congress or the states have established rights and protections for individuals, including protection against wage discrimination, that they are able to enforce these rights in court. The bill amends the Federal Arbitration Act to prohibit mandatory pre-dispute, commonly known as “forced,” arbitration agreements for claims rising under federal or state statute, the U.S. Constitution, or a state constitution. The bill would further require that a court determines whether an agreement is unconscionable, legally invalid, or otherwise unenforceable as a matter of contract law or public policy. Under current law, parties may resolve statutory claims, including claims rising under anti-discrimination statutes, through forced arbitration instead of the justice system.
“As we continue the fight for equal pay, equal promotion, and equal rights in the workplace, we need to ensure that we do not lose our footing on the critical milestones we have achieved through the enforcement of civil rights in our justice system,” Rep. Johnson stated. “Forced arbitration has created a rigged system that blocks women from enforcing their legal rights against unaccountable and unlawful corporations for wage violations in the workplace.”
Forced arbitration clauses that circumvent state, federal, and constitutional protections against discrimination are particularly harmful to women, who file more than 41% of charges against employers for sex-based discrimination in the workplace, and nearly 83% of sexual-harassment charges. For example, an hourly hospital employee was forced to arbitrate her claim that her employer’s payroll system rounded down her time, undermining her ability to hold her employer accountable for wage theft. In another example, former female employees at a large financial institution were forced into arbitration following their attempt to bring a class action accusing the firm of widespread gender discrimination, alleging unequal pay based on their gender, fewer promotions for female employees, and other systemic discriminatory practices that were inherent to the firm’s corporate culture.
Original cosponsors of the Restoring Statutory Rights Act include Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Judy Chu (D-CA), and David Cicilline (D-RI). Text of the legislation is available here.
The following organizations support the Restoring Statutory Rights Act and are dedicated to eliminating sex discrimination in the workplace: the National Partnership for Women & Families, National Women’s Law Center, 9to5, National Association of Working Women, AFL-CIO, African American Ministers In Action, American Association of University Women (AAUW), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Center for WorkLife Law at the UC Hastings College of the Law, Equal Rights Advocates, Family Forward Oregon, Institute for Science and Human Values, International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America – UAW, the Legal Aid Society - Employment Law Center, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Council of Jewish Women, National Employment Law Project, National Employment Lawyers Association, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Organization for Women (NOW), NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Public Justice Center, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, USAction, Women Employed and the Women's Law Project. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights also supports restoring civil rights protections comprised by forced arbitration.
The H.R. 4899, the Restoring Statutory Rights Act is an identical companion to S.2506, the “Restoring Statutory Rights and Interests of the States Act of 2016,” introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Al Franken (D-MN) on February 4, 2016.