Microsoft backs bill to end arbitration in sexual harassment cases

Microsoft is throwing its support behind a bill that seeks to make a drastic change amid the backlash against sexual harassment in the workplace, which is affecting industries such as tech, entertainment, politics and beyond.

The #MeToo movement has empowered more women (and some men) to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and assault. But some voices have long been silenced by a tactic used by many companies: forced arbitration, which prevents many cases from being brought to court.

Now Microsoft says it’s the first Fortune 100 company to endorse a bill that would end forced arbitration of such cases, which was introduced earlier this month by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.

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“Because the silencing of voices has helped perpetuate sexual harassment, the country should guarantee that people can go to court to ensure these concerns can always be heard,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer, said in a blog post Tuesday.

And while Smith said forced arbitration is not common at Microsoft, the company is dumping forced arbitration itself, too.

“We are waiving the contractual requirement for arbitration of sexual harassment claims in our own arbitration agreements for the limited number of employees who have this requirement,” he said.

The arbitration requirement often goes hand in hand with non-disclosure agreements. Other big tech companies, such as Google and Tesla, have been accused of using such agreements to silence employee complaints.

Microsoft’s move comes as it deals with a gender-discrimination lawsuit that has also uncovered a rape allegation by an intern who was later hired by the company — and so was her alleged rapist.

 

Photo: People walk past a Microsoft office in New York on Oct. 6, 2015. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

 

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