With roughly 56 percent of Maine employers forcing workers to sign away their right to sue through forced arbitration — which requires employees to resolve legal disputes through a private mediator — employees who experience sexual harassment in the workplace can be denied their day in court. This year, a bill being considered by the state legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee could change that.
LD 1250, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Tipping (D-Orono), would ban forced arbitration clauses related to sexual harassment from Maine employment contracts. The bill was first proposed in 2019, but was tabled by the Labor committee and carried over into the legislative session that began this month.
Valerie Wicks, a Maine labor attorney with Johnson, Webbert & Young, LLP in Augusta, says that the proliferation of forced arbitration clauses, like non-disclosure agreements, are an attempt by employers to make private what should be public knowledge.
Referring to the sexual assault allegations made against Harvey Weinstein and prominent figures at Fox News, Wicks said that, for decades, other survivors were kept in the dark about the allegations “because people were sworn to secrecy, and they couldn’t talk about what happened to them.”
“What makes it harder for those who suffer from sexual harassment is that they don’t know it’s happening to other people,” said Wicks. “It can more powerful when there’s a group of people who say, ‘Hey, this is a widespread problem, not just one incident.’”