Tech giant Google, which is headquartered in Mountain View, faced criticism and even a walkout last year for the way it was dealing with sexual harassment claims. Google employment agreements mandated that any sexual harassment and assault claims be settled in arbitration.
Beginning this month, that will no longer be the case. Google announced late last year following the walkout by 20,000 employees that arbitration for these claims would be optional. That policy change is effective on March 21.
The change applies to Google employees only. However, a significant part of its workforce is comprised of contractors who have forced arbitration clauses in their contracts. The company is reportedly planning to make arbitration for sexual assault and harassment claims optional for them as well.
A significant impact of the change is that employees who allege sexual harassment or assault can now file class-action lawsuits. Victims have a greater chance of prevailing in class-action suits than stand-alone ones. It's also less financially cumbersome to become part of a class-action suit than to take on a company alone.
Further, victims who prevail in stand-alone claims can seek compensation only for emotional damages. These can be hard to assign a dollar amount to and get a jury to agree on.
The change to the policy -- which applied only to sexual harassment and assault claims -- will help more victims have their day in court. As one San Francisco attorney says, "Part of the justice that is available to sexual harassment victims is actually getting the chance to tell their story in front of a jury."
Whether you're bound by a mandatory arbitration clause in your employment agreement, if you've been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, it's wise to seek the guidance of an experienced attorney. They can help you work to seek the justice and compensation you deserve.