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Durbin Delivers Opening Statement During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Effects of Forced Arbitration

For more than 60 million American workers and many more consumers, forced arbitration clauses surreptitiously deny them their right to sue in court while protecting that same right for businesses and corporations

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered an opening statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Small Print, Big Impact: Examining the Effects of Forced Arbitration.”  The hearing will examine the use of forced arbitration clauses in employment contracts, consumer agreements, and other areas, as well as the injustices faced by workers, consumers, and others who are denied their days in court by forced arbitration clauses.

Key Quotes:

“The Seventh Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial.  However, for tens of millions of Americans, this constitutional right is an empty promise.  Instead of having their day in court, they are forced into arbitration by the fine print buried deep in employment contracts, product manuals, and terms of service.”

“If you have activated a cell phone, signed up for a credit card, or bought a mattress, television, or countless other products, you likely agreed to arbitrate any future disputes you have with the manufacturer or service provider.  Don’t be embarrassed if you’re just learning that you likely waived your constitutional right to bring your claim in court.  You are part of the more than 99 percent of consumers who use popular products and services who had no idea they are subject to forced arbitration.”

“The rules governing arbitration often limit the information victims can get from corporations, making it even more difficult to prove their claims.  The process is overseen by arbitrators who can be biased in favor of one side or the other—usually corporations because they want to ensure a steady pipeline of future work.  Those arbitrators aren’t bound by precedent and their decisions are only subject to limited judicial review.”

“The problems are compounded by the secretive nature of the process.  Nowhere was this troubling combination more pronounced than in cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment.”

“For years, predators like Roger Ailes preyed upon women without fear because they or their employers would hide behind confidential arbitration proceedings to sweep abuse under the rug.  Thankfully, that is no longer the case. That’s because brave survivors like Gretchen Carlson, with us today, stepped forward to break this cycle of abuse.”

“As this hearing will highlight, millions of American workers and consumers remain subject to forced arbitration.  We will hear from witness Joanne Grace how forced arbitration is used to cover up illegal age discrimination.  The same is true of racial discrimination, abuse in nursing care facilities, and countless other harms.  Joanne and others like her deserve their day in court.  That is what the Constitution promises.  And that is what Congress should provide.”

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.

An Economic Policy Institute study found that more than half of non-union, private-sector employees in the United States are subject to forced arbitration today, equating to roughly 60 million people. A study by the National Consumer Law Center found that more than 99 percent of consumers who use popular products and services were unaware that they are likewise subject to forced arbitration. Forced arbitration is often one-sided, granting the business the right to sue in court while denying that same right to the employee or consumer.

The hearing continues Chair Durbin and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s work to end the practice of forced arbitration and allow victims their day in court. In 2022, President Biden signed into law the bipartisan Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, sponsored in the Senate by Durbin and U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).