Three hours after his company threw him a going away party as he deployed to Afghanistan, U.S. Navy Reserve Lieutenant Kevin Ziober was fired.
Although the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act allows veterans to resume their jobs after deployment, Ziober was told that the project he worked on at his Irvine, Calif., real estate firm wouldn’t exist when he returned from war. But Ziober couldn’t sue.
That’s because his employment contract included a provision preventing employees from suing the company in court, instead forcing the matter to be resolved by arbitration. That process takes place behind closed doors and doesn’t include a right to appeal. It allows companies to shield the proceedings and potential settlements and prevent victims of discrimination from speaking out.
New legislation introduced by several Democratic lawmakers seeks to change the way employers can use arbitration in disputes with employees to protect people like Ziober. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has introduced the Justice for Servicemembers Act, which would help protect veterans and military reservists from being forced into arbitration by employers.
“No service member who is asked to serve their country should have to worry about fighting for their job when they return home from war,” Ziobar said at a press conference Tuesday announcing the bills.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., helped introduce the Arbitration Fairness Act, which would change the Federal Arbitration Act to prohibit employers from including arbitration clauses in contracts that force use of the process for “employment, consumer, antitrust and civil rights disputes.”
Frequently employees are unaware a contract includes an arbitration clause, so they don’t realize they are signing away their right to sue. Consumers can fall victim to the same trap.
“From nursing home contracts and employment agreements to credit card and cellphone contracts, corporate America uses forced arbitration clauses to restrict Americans’ access to justice by stripping consumers and workers of their constitutional right to have their claims heard in a public court of law,” Franken said at a press conference Tuesday. “Instead they’re forced into a private justice system that is inherently biased towards corporations.”
The process can also be used to address sexual assault allegations, which former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson says “silences” victims. Carlson accused Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes of sexual harassment, which eventually led to Ailes’ ouster and several other women coming forward with similar allegations. Fox tried to force Carlson into arbitration to settle the allegations.
“The arbitration process often argued to be quicker and cheaper for employees instead silences millions of other survivors who may have come forward if they knew they weren’t alone,” Carlson said Tuesday at the press conference.