08 Oct #MeToo inspired sexual harassment bills await signature
Three #MeToo inspired sexual harassment bills await the governor’s signature. The legislature passed each of the three bills partly in response to the #MeToo movement, which has grown in response to sexual harassment in the workplace. As part of the movement, #MeToo advocates have called for updates to California’s sexual harassment laws. While the bills all aim to deter sexual harassment, they each address distinct issues.
AB 9, inspired by #MeToo criticisms, would extend the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims
AB 9 would extend the time victims of sexual harassment have to file claims under state law. Currently, sexual harassment victims generally have only one year to take action. AB 9 would change the statute of limitations for sexual harassment to three years. Employment lawyers and supporters of the #MeToo movement have criticized the short statute of limitations California has for sexual harassment claims. They argue many sexual harassment victims don’t immediately recognize they’ve experienced legally actionable sexual harassment. By the time they do, it may be too late to take action.
Meanwhile, critics of AB 9 argue that it will increase employers’ liability. Undoubtedly, this would be a major change to state employment law. But until the bill goes into effect, nobody can say for sure how much real world impact the change would have.
AB 51 seeks to protect sexual harassment victims’ right to sue in court
AB 51 would prohibit employers from enforcing mandatory arbitration clauses against victims of sexual harassment. Employers are increasingly using mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts with employees. Arbitration is essentially a private court system. Arbitration generally has similar procedures as court, but there are some important differences. These differences, tend to advantage employers. Moreover, it’s very rare that a court will decline to enforce an arbitration agreement.
Unsurprisingly, many #MeToo advocates have been critical of arbitration agreements, arguing they take rights away from sexual harassment victims. Moreover, because arbitration is private, it allows employers to sweep sexual harassment lawsuits under the rug.
AB 51 would make it harder for employers to enforce such agreements against victims of sexual harassment. Advocates hope the legislation would help victims fight back more effectively against sexual harassment at work.
Even if passed, however, it’s possible that AB 51 would conflict with federal law regarding arbitration agreements. Where state and federal law directly conflict, federal law prevails. Therefore, it’s possible AB 51 would have little or no impact on sexual harassment lawsuits. If AB 51 does become law, courts will have to work this out.
AB 749 would prohibit employers from including “no rehire” clauses in sexual harassment settlements
AB 749 prohibits employers from including “no rehire” clauses in settlement agreements with sexual harassment victims. These clauses give employers the right to refuse to hire or employ the victim in the future. #MeToo advocates argue this is a form of retaliation against employees who file sexual harassment lawsuits. By prohibiting such clauses, the legislature sought to ensure that victims can move on without sacrificing future opportunities.
#MeToo advocates hope governor will sign the sexual harassment bills
As of now, these three #MeToo inspired sexual harassment bills are not law. They will only become law with the governor’s signature. The governor has until October 13, 2019 to sign them. Activists in the growing anti-sexual harassment movement are hoping the governor will sign them before the upcoming deadline.
If the governor does not sign one or more of the bills, don’t expect that to be the end of the line. This is only the beginning of what will likely to be a long effort to reshape California’s civil rights laws to combat sexual harassment.
If you believe you have been a victim of sexual harassment, contact the Khadder Law Firm today for a free consultation.