Coffman joins effort to end forced arbitration for workplace sexual harassment claims

This story was updated on March 14 with a statement from Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. 

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is among those calling on Congress to do more to protect workers whose employment contracts bar them from bringing cases of sexual harassment to court.

Coffman, a Republican running for governor this year, joined 55 other attorneys general from every state and territory and the District of Columbia in signing a letter asking Congress to enact legislation that would prevent employers from requiring that sexual harassment claims be settled through arbitration as a condition of employment.

Arbitration is a way for companies to settle consumer and workplace claims outside of court through a private, internal process. Consumers who do not read terms and conditions or workers who sign employment contracts may unknowingly forgo their right to have their complaints heard in court.

The bipartisan request comes as this year’s #MeToo movement exposes instances of workplace sexual harassment in the media, entertainment industry, academia, Congress and state legislatures, including Colorado’s. This wave of unending harassment publicity has drawn attention to forced arbitration, which, the letter states, creates a culture of silence that protects perpetrators at the cost of their victims.

“Victims should have the right to be heard in court and should not be forced into confidential arbitration proceedings. Keeping information about sexual harassment under a veil of silence only perpetuates this unacceptable and destructive behavior in our society,” Coffman said in a news release on March 14.

It has been a decade since all 56 attorneys general sent a joint letter to Congress,  according to a news release from the Florida attorney general’s office.

The 1925 Federal Arbitration Act preempts states from prohibiting arbitration, but lawmakers in Colorado have plans to step in anyways.

Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, said forced arbitration affects anything from buying consumer goods, signing up for a nursing home or dealing with harassment at work. He said he will propose legislation in the next month this session to make the arbitration process more fair and transparent.

Coffman’s press office did not return requests for comment on this story.