A former Uber employee who sounded the alarm about the company’s alleged mistreatment treatment of women is now going after clauses in contracts that waive the rights of employees to sue the companies they work for.
Susan Fowler has hired lawyers who helped her file amicus briefs in support of three Supreme Court cases challenging the legality of forced arbitration clauses in contracts. The contracts employees sign with companies like Uber and others can include a stipulation that bars staff from banding together in a class-action lawsuit against the company or simply taking them to court at all.
Instead, contracts like Uber’s force employees to settle disputes in private arbitration. This kept Fowler from taking the company to court over sexual harassment she says she experienced at Uber, which she says went ignored despite her reports.
Uber is far from the only company that pressures its employees into arbitration contracts. The three suits that Fowler filed briefs on involve Epic Systems, Ernst & Young and Murphy Oil. Other internet companies like Airbnb, Netflix and Amazon have arbitration clauses in contracts with their employees and contractors as well.
Private arbitration differs from a government court in that parties involved can choose their own judges. Also, the results of the arbitration can be made confidential. Critics say that private companies can seek out the same arbitrators, leading to conflicts of interest as they cozy up to repeat customers.
The impacts of class action lawsuits can also be much bigger for consumers. Contracts that keep employees from suing deprive employees of what “they are most likely to benefit: the right to engage in collective litigation,” wrote Fowler’s attorney, Chris Baker, in an Aug. 16 filing.
The court will consider the three cases, Epic Systems v. Lewis, Ernst & Young v. Morris, and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil, consolidated together in January.