A recent decision in the action Teyo Johnson v. Everyrealm, Inc., et al. before the Southern District of New York demonstrates that broad protections victims are afforded under the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act ("EFAA"). The EFAA makes a pre-dispute arbitration agreement invalid and unenforceable in connection with a case that relates to sexual harassment or assault. In Everyrealm, the plaintiff asserted claims for: (1) race discrimination; (2) pay discrimination; (3) sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and discrimination on the basis of gender, race, and ethnicity; (4) aiding and abetting; (5) whistleblower retaliation; and (6) common-law intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The defendants in Everyrealm filed a motion to compel arbitration of claims they asserted were not related to the sexual harassment at issue. In other words, the defendants wanted the court to mandate private arbitration for claims they asserted were unrelated to sexual harassment while claims related to the sexual harassment proceeded in federal court. After conducting an analysis of the statutory text of the EFAA, the Everyrealm court rejected the defendants' position and found that Congress intended the EFAA's invalidation of pre-dispute arbitration agreements to apply to an entire case related to sexual harassment or assault rather than individually to claims asserted by a plaintiff. As a result, the court denied defendants' motion to compel arbitration after finding that the plaintiff had made out a claim for sexual harassment in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law, thereby making his case a "sexual harassment dispute." As such, the plaintiff can now pursue all of his claims in federal court.
The Everyrealm decision is important win for plaintiffs. Generally, it is preferrable for a plaintiff to have a case heard in open court rather than private arbitration. Also, having a case in a public forum may provide additional motivation for an employer to change discriminatory practices and/or to implement or adopt policies and procedures aimed at preventing discrimination and providing an equitable workplace for all employees. Further, it is often more practical for a plaintiff to have all claims against his or her employer addressed in a single proceeding rather than having to litigate related claims in separate forums.
If you have been subject to a hostile work environment or other discrimination at work, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to understand your rights and whether you can pursue any claims.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.