The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would ban companies from forcing employees who allege sexual assault or harassment to settle their claims with an arbiter without the option of filing a lawsuit.
The bill, which the House of Representatives passed earlier this week, was sent to President Joe Biden to sign into law. The Senate approved it in a voice vote, indicating broad bipartisan support in the narrowly divided chamber.
The bill, known as the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, was first sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in 2017. It would provide federal protection for the right of employees to sue their employers over allegations of sexual harassment or assault, nullifying clauses in employment contracts that force employees to enter arbitration with their employer instead.
Republican Senator Joni Ernst, in a speech on the Senate floor said the bill will ensure that “survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment … voices will not be silenced.”
She noted that the bill is narrowly written. “This bill should not be the catalyst for destroying pre-dispute arbitration agreements in all employment matters.”
The bill is one of the few pieces of legislation passed in a narrowly divided Senate this year, including Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill and a debt limit increase.