Some of Maine’s top employers, including Bath Iron Works, St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston and MaineGeneral Health in Augusta, top a list of 250 businesses in the state that require their workers to settle claims of sexual harassment or discrimination outside of court through a private arbitrator.
The use of “forced arbitration” — clauses in hiring contracts that take away an employee’s right to sue employers in courts for violations such as wage theft, safety hazards, sexual harassment and racial discrimination — is estimated to have doubled nationally since the 1990s. The expansion of these clauses is due in part by a 2018 decision by a conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court which greatly expanded the range of complaints that corporations could settle through arbitration.
Up until this point, there has been limited research into the proliferation of this practice in Maine because of the secretive nature of private arbitration, which often is mediated by an arbitrator hand-picked by the company and keeps its findings and settlements behind closed doors.
“Maine is not an island unto itself,” Young said. “As in other states across the nation, employers which do business in Maine increasingly are forcing workers to give up their right to file suit in court and instead requiring them as a condition of employment to individually arbitrate their claims.”
A bill, LD 1693, is currently being considered by state lawmakers that would address the rise of forced arbitration. It proposes to allow the Maine Attorney General’s office to grant state authority (the state not being bound by private agreements between boss and employee) to private attorneys to work around the binding agreements and bring claims to court on behalf of the worker.