weather icon Drizzle

Microsoft ends forced arbitration for sexual harassment cases

Microsoft’s announcement that it will allow employees to sue the company for sexual harassment has handed the #MeToo campaign an important victory after months of revelations about predatory behavior and assault by powerful men in media, entertainment and technology, advocates said.

The software giant said this week it was scrapping employment agreements that require workers to settle harassment complaints in private and called itself the first Fortune 100 company to back a bill before Congress that would ban companies from forcing such disputes into closed-door arbitration.

“We concluded that if we were to advocate for legislation ending arbitration requirements for sexual harassment, we should not have a contractual requirement for our own employees that would obligate them to arbitrate sexual harassment claims,” Brad Smith, the president and chief legal officer, said in a statement. “For this reason, effective immediately, we are waiving the contractual requirement for arbitration of sexual harassment claims in our own arbitration agreements for the limited number of employees who have this requirement.”

More than half of American workers have signed away their right to sue their employer for sexual harassment, gender or racial discrimination, according to a recent study from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Employee advocates say such contracts shield predators and perpetuate the problem. Some expressed hope Microsoft’s decision, while affecting only a small number of its employees, could push other firms to drop their secrecy rules.

“Microsoft just jumped way ahead,” said Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, which opposes legal agreements that silence whistleblowers. “This will put pressure on other corporations to do just that.”

In his statement, Smith said Microsoft supported the bipartisan bill introduced earlier this month that would outlaw mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment cases and void existing employment contracts that demanded it. Such arrangements allow accusations to stay secret, and firms have a say in who decides the cases, advocates say.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the bill’s conservative sponsors, persuaded Microsoft to support the bill, Smith wrote.

The two happened to have a meeting scheduled for Dec. 6, the same day Graham unveiled the legislation on Capitol Hill with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a source close to Graham said. They were supposed to discuss cybersecurity and immigration, but, Smith wrote, Graham “followed those topics with a compelling appeal that we consider this new legislation.”

Graham had asked Smith: Where does Microsoft stand on this?

About two weeks later, he got the answer.

For Microsoft, the decision to update its company policy was more of a symbolic move than a cultural upheaval. The firm said a small fraction of its workforce – “hundreds of employees” out of 125,000 worldwide – were bound by similar contracts.

Private arbitration burst into the spotlight last year after former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued her longtime boss, Roger Ailes, for trying to derail her career after she rejected his sexual advances.

The lawsuit set off a national discussion about sexual misconduct in the workplace and drew attention to the use of legal agreements to hush victims.

Rheingold, the NACA executive, said support from the business world is critical to quashing the practice.

“We have little faith that Congress is going to pass any bills right now that will protect victims of sexual harassment,” he said. “The one way we will see change is through demands for corporations to take responsibility.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the leading business lobby, has not taken a stand on the bill.

“We’re taking a look at this important legislation and discussing it with our members,” a spokesperson said in an email Wednesday. “We hope to have an opportunity soon to talk with lawmakers so we better understand it. The Chamber will work with anyone to make sure appropriate steps are taken to combat sexual harassment.”

On Twitter, however, Microsoft’s move unleashed more enthusiasm among women in different industries.

“This is incredible: Microsoft eliminates forced arbitration in cases of harassment etc.,” wrote Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineered who has criticized the ride-sharing company for failing to protect its female workers from discrimination on the job. “The single most important thing tech companies can do to end harassment and discrimination is to end forced arbitration.”

Carlson, who has become a face of the movement against workplace misconduct, tweeted that more companies should follow the company’s lead.

“EVERY organization should end forced arbitration,” she wrote, “because keeping victims silent is how sexual predators can get away with it for years (or decades).”

And Reese Witherspoon, an actress who speaks candidly about sexism in Hollywood, applauded the blow against secrecy.

“No more forced arbitration agreements for sexual harassment cases makes a safer work environment,” she wrote.

Kate Brodock, chief executive of Women 2.0, a group that works to recruit women into the technology industry, said on Wednesday that Microsoft’s announcement reflects the power of the #MeToo movement, which has unleashed millions of stories about sexual harassment and assault on social media since October.

“When you’re closed off and silenced in a corner – that’s one of the biggest problems that has come to light from all of this,” Brodock said.

Still, she added, the movement’s work is far from over.

“So many kudos to Microsoft,” she said, ” but for the industry, I hope this leads to more victories. There’s still a lot of stuff to be done.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Business Videos
How much do Las Vegas casino CEOs make?
Las Vegas gaming CEOs made anywhere between $1 million and $24 million last year, according to company filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. ((Las Vegas Review-Journal)
30-year-old Rio needs a little TLC
Nearly 30 years after the Rio opened, the red and blue jewel that helped catapult Las Vegas to a new level with its buffet and nightclub has lost its status along with its shine.
The latest on the Drew Las Vegas - VIDEO
Eli Segall recounts his tour of the Drew Las Vegas, formerly the Fontainebleau, on the Las Vegas Strip. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pinball Hall of Fame to move near south Strip
Operators of the Pinball Hall of Fame have been approved to build a new, larger arcade near the south edge of the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard near Russel Road. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
National Hardware Show underway Las Vegas
The National Hardware Show kicked off Tuesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Caesars for sale?
Caesars Entertainment Corp. has been swept up in takeover speculation since the company’s share price tumbled last year amid disappointing earnings and concerns over a recession. Amid the decline, hedge funds scooped up shares. Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn began buying shares of Caesars as early as January. Icahn acquired nearly 18 percent by mid-March. In February Icahn called on the Caesars board to study a sale as a way to boost shareholder value.
Las Vegas home prices
Las Vegas home prices grew fastest among major markets in February for the ninth straight month. But amid affordability concerns, the growth rate has slowed down. Southern Nevada prices in February were up 9.7% from a year earlier, according to the latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index. The last time Las Vegas' price growth fell below 10% was in September 2017, S&P Dow Jones Indices reported.
Free Parking Coming To Wynn
Free parking will come to the Wynn and Encore resorts on May 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Founding Venetian employees talk about 20 years at the Strip resort
The Venetian, which opened May 3, 1999, is celebrating 20 years on the Las Vegas Strip. Seven original employees talk about opening the luxury resort and working there for two decades. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Circa aiming for December 2020 opening
The 1.25-million-square-foot property will have 44-stories and 777-rooms. It will also have a separate nine-story, 1,201-space parking garage.
Boxabl official explains the building concept
Boxabl business development manager Galiano Tiramani shows off a room built by his company. (Blake Apgar/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TI/Mirage Tram reopens
The tram that shuttles guests between TI and Mirage reopened this week after being closed for much of 2018.
Las Vegas Convention Center expansion taking shape
Renderings and actual footage show how the Las Vegas Convention Center is evolving.
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at Las Vegas convention
Former Starbucks CEO and potential presidential candidate Howard Schultz spoke at the Epicor Insights user conference at Mandalay Bay Convention Center Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Drew Las Vegas to open in the second quarter of 2022
The 67-story Drew Las Vegas is slated to open in the second quarter of 2022 at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NAB Day 1 (Time Lapse)
NAB kicked off at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, April 8, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
National Association of Broadcasters Show shows 1mm thick 8K TV with 22.2 channel digital sound
Japan’s NHK Science & Technology Research Laboratories booth featured a 1mm thick 8K TV system used in conjunction with a 22.2 channel digital sound system at the National Association of Broadcasters Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Nevada shoppers react to Smith’s no longer accepting Visa credit cards
On March 1, Smith’s announced that it would no longer be accepting Visa credit cards at any of its 142 supermarkets, including the 45 in Nevada.
Massachusetts Gaming Commission asks how long Wynn executives knew about misconduct
Business reporter Rick Velotta gives an update on the adjudicatory hearing on the suitability of Wynn Resorts to retain its gaming license in Massachusetts.
Henderson app developer part of Startup in Residence
Henderson based developers of the app On Point Barricade are taking part in Startup in Residence, a North America program dedicated to pairing tech companies with governments. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sam's Town employees and customers talk of their love for the iconic casino
Longtime Sam's Town employees and customers love each other and love their casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas apartments rents
Las Vegas’ apartment market has accelerated in recent years. Developers are packing the suburbs with projects, landlords are on a buying spree, and tenants have filled buildings.
William Boyd talks about the birth of Sam's Town
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of Sam's Town, William Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming and son of hotel namesake Sam Boyd, talks about how the casino became one of the first local properties in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
High Roller observation wheel turns five
The world’s tallest observation wheel celebrates it’s fifth year on Sunday, March 31, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Escape Room Industry Growing In Las Vegas
Escapology employees discuss the growing escape room industry in the U.S. and Las Vegas. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Impact of parking fees on visiting the Las Vegas Strip
There are no data showing a relationship between Strip resort and parking fees and the number of out-of-state visitors to Las Vegas. But there are data showing a relationship between Strip parking fees and the number of local visitors to the the Strip. ‘’As a local, I find myself picking hotels I visit for dinner or entertainment, based on whether they charge for parking or not,”’ said David Perisset, the owner of Exotics Racing. ‘’It is not a matter of money, more of principle.’’ A 2018 survey by the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance found 36.9 percent of Clark County residents reported avoiding parking at Strip casinos that charge for parking. 29.1 percent reported avoiding using any services from a Strip casino that charges for parking.
MGM's sports betting deals
MGM Resorts International signed a sports betting sponsorship agreement with the NBA in July It was the first professional sports league to have official ties with a legal sports betting house. The deal came just two months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a law prohibiting sports betting in most states. In October, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the NHL. In November, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the MLB. Financial terms of Tuesday’s deal and earlier partnerships have not been announced.
Faraday puts Las Vegas land on the market
Nearly two years after Faraday Future bailed on its North Las Vegas auto factory, the company has put its land up for sale. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
El Cortez owner Kenny Epstein on running the iconic property
Kenny Epstein, owner of the El Cortez Hotel in downtown Las Vegas, talks about Jackie Gaughan mentorship and answers rumors about bodies in the basement at the mob-era casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
LVCVA recommends construction of underground people mover
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced the recommendation for an underground people mover for the convention center. The system would have the potential to expand and connect Downtown and the resort corridor all the way to McCarran. (Michael Quine/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
US delays Huawei ban 90 days to give tech sector time to adjust

The United States is delaying some restrictions on U.S. technology sales to Chinese tech powerhouse Huawei in what it calls an effort to ease the blow on Huawei smartphone owners and smaller U.S. telecoms providers.

Dressbarn to close all of its 650 stores

Dressbarn, the women’s clothing chain that’s been around for nearly 60 years, is closing all 650 of its stores.