16:17, August 07 30 0 abajournal.com

2018-08-07 16:17:05
ABA House urges legal employers not to require mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims

After a year in which sexual harassment in the workplace has taken center stage, the ABA’s House of Delegates voted Tuesday to urge legal employers not to require mandatory arbitration of such claims.

Resolution 300, a response to the #MeToo movement, doesn’t seek to eliminate arbitration in all instances. Rather, it opposes mandatory binding arbitration that employees cannot opt out of and that shields the matters from public disclosure. It was co-sponsored by the Commission on Women in the Profession, the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice.

No ABA entity officially opposed it, but Resolution 300’s report noted that revisions were made in response to concerns raised by other entities.

The resolution was moved in the House by delegate Stephanie Scharf of Illinois, chair of the Commission on Women in the Profession. She said its broad support reflects the fact that “we are living in a time when men and women will no longer tolerate what really has been decades of staying silent about sexual harassment.”

She also noted recent research from the 2017-2018 Presidential Initiative on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law. Data cited in the resolution showed that 49 percent of female lawyers in America’s 350 largest law firms say they’ve had some kind of “unwanted sexual contact” at work.

“The ABA sets the gold standard in so many areas of law and policy,” said Scharf, of Chicago-based Scharf Banks Marmor. “I ask you to set the gold standard here, that in our profession, victims of sexual harassment will chose how they wish to proceed and where.”

The resolution also had the support of outgoing ABA President Hilarie Bass. She told the House that permitting mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims helps keep them secret, adding to the problem and sometimes allowing harassers to continue their inappropriate conduct with apparent impunity. Bipartisan groups of senators and attorneys general have urged a change in federal law that would make forced arbitration clauses unenforceable. Several corporations have adopted the change on their own, she noted.

“This association needs to be able to stand up and look at women coming into this profession and tell them we will do what it takes to protect them, including ensuring that they will get their day in court if they choose,” Bass said.

The resolution passed easily.

Follow along with our full coverage of the 2018 ABA Annual Meeting.