What ending forced arbitration for sexual assault claims could mean for survivors

A major bipartisan law to empower victims of sexual harassment and assault cleared the Senate Thursday and heads to President Biden's desk for a signature. It's the most significant #MeToo legislation to pass in Congress since the movement began. Lisa Desjardins spoke with Gretchen Carlson, who saw the impact of this first hand when she came forward in 2016 against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The bipartisan bill to empower survivors of sexual harassment and assault now heads to President Biden's desk for his signature.

    It's the most significant MeToo legislation to pass in Congress since the movement began.

    Lisa Desjardins has more on what it means for sexual abuse survivors.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The historic legislation ends the use of forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment and assault claims.

    It's a common practice in all kinds of contracts that mean people cannot take those cases to court.

    Gretchen Carlson saw the impact of this firsthand when she came forward against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes in 2016. Since then, she's advocated for the law and today joined senators on both sides of the aisle to celebrate its passing.

    And she joins us now to discuss what it all means.

    Gretchen, this term forced arbitration, it sounds almost clinical. Can you help us understand, in real terms, what has this meant in America?

  • Gretchen Carlson, Former FOX News Anchor,:

    Yes, it really is something that people hear it, and their eyes glaze over, and they have no earthly idea if they have it in their workplace contract or if they just happen to click on an e-mail or it's tucked away in their employee handbook.

    Basically, this has become an epidemic across America over the last 30 to 40 years, with companies using it. Up to 84 percent of all people would be under forced arbitration in the next couple of years, just to show you the exponential growth.

    And it means that you, if you have a problem at work, you have to go to this secret chamber called forced arbitration, instead of your Seventh Amendment right and be able to go an open jury process.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Your case made international headlines, in part because of your profile, and also because it took down one of the world's most powerful men. It meant his professional demise.

    But can you help us understand more broadly, what has this meant for people less close to power? Any stories you can share?

  • Gretchen Carlson:

    Yes,.

    I mean, let me just first explain I had a forced arbitration clause in my last contract at FOX. And, even as an educated woman, thinking about bring a lawsuit even at that time, I did not understand the ramifications of what that meant. And it was a dark day for me when my lawyers told me, you have no case because you're going to go to the secret chamber of arbitration. You cannot go to a jury trial.

    And that's why we sued Roger Ailes personally. That was the strategy, to try and make my case public, or we arguably would not be in this movement right now, because my story would have never, ever been told.

    And what ended up happening, Lisa, was, I started hearing from thousands of other women across the country after my case became public, and they said, the same thing happened to me. And I have never, ever been able to tell my story.

    And I realized then that it was an epidemic, and I needed to do something about it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Those are stunning numbers.

    This is also a topic that was once taboo, sexual misconduct. And I know, in trying to push this law, some large business groups really worked against you. They said this law is too broad.

    Can you help us understand how and why, in the end, did it get so much wide support?

  • Gretchen Carlson:

    Yes, so groups like the Chamber of Commerce were against this bill. But I will say that, this time around, they did not publicly come out against it, but they were working very hard behind the scenes.

    But the way that I sum this up is that I saw a tonal shift happening on Capitol Hill over the last five years since I started advocating for this bill, and specifically with Republicans. And so I decided strategically to make most of my outreach to Republicans. Democrats tend to vote for this, and Republicans tended not to.

    And I was able to get a lot of Republicans who voted no the first time this was introduced back in 2017 to switch their votes to yes this time. I think that that was significant because of the efforts made, but also because people realize that this movement's not going away now, and the same thing with companies.

    As much as they thought this might be a passing fad, they're now thinking to themselves, wow, five years into this, we're still talking about this, and so we might have to be introspective and make some changes, and maybe we can't silence our women anymore when bad things happen to them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, can you talk to that idea?

    It has been six years since you filed your lawsuit. Where do you think America is culturally with concepts of sexual harassment and treatment of other people in terms of sexual misconduct?

  • Gretchen Carlson:

    I mean, I think we have made incredibly great strides.

    I mean, first and foremost, women are being believed, which sounds so crazy that, in 2022, we weren't believing women back in 2016. But we weren't. We're not — women are not as much maligned as they were.

    The first thing my lawyer said to me is, they will kill you. And they — they definitely tried to, and they did to so many other women, just meeting in general in our society.

    Perpetrators are being held accountable. You're not seeing these big payouts to well-known people when they have allegations made against them. And so I think that that's massive progress. I also think a key to this is that the media started covering these stories, and that the general public got angry when they heard them. And they wondered, why have we not heard about these stories?

    And I'll bring you full circle to why, because they were all going to the secret chamber of forced arbitration.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As you ride this wave, as you fight this fight, what's next?

  • Gretchen Carlson:

    Well, I created my nonprofit Lift Our Voices two years ago.

    And we believe that there should be no forced arbitration for any toxic workplace issue, including age, race, gender discrimination, LGBTQ discrimination, et cetera, anything under Title VII. We also believe that people should not be silenced with nondisclosure agreements.

    Of course, company should be able to protect their trade secrets, but not be able to cover up horrible things that happen to people in the workplace. So, that's the mission of Lift Our Voices. And, as you heard today on the Hill, I plan to start meeting with members of Congress immediately to start tackling some more of those issues.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And one last question.

    This was historic legislation, by some accounts, perhaps the biggest change in labor law in almost 90 or 100 years. How does it feel for you to have gotten this done?

  • Gretchen Carlson:

    Yes, I did shed a few tears when the vote came in, because this has been a five-year journey, but not for me. I shed them for the millions of workers who maybe don't have the same platform that I have to try and get this done.

    And I have often said that, aside from my two children, who I'm going to hug incredibly hard tonight, that this will be my greatest life achievement. And, aside from my children, making this kind of historic change for so many people is something I never expected would be on my radar screen.

    But when a bad thing happened to me, I decided to roll up my sleeves and make a difference. And I hope, today, that I have.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Gretchen Carlson, thank you so much for speaking with us.

  • Gretchen Carlson:

    Thank you for having me.

Listen to this Segment