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Mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims under scrutiny

Many Minnesotans may know of the conglomerate Ernst & Young, which is identified as one of the "Big Four" accounting firms in the nation. However, the company is coming under scrutiny for its mandatory arbitration policy. The issue came to the forefront after a female employee of the accounting giant came forward with a sexual harassment claim.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint the woman filed, she and other women at the company were consistently subjected to offensive sexual comments about their bodies, which were made by male employees. However, per company policy, she was required to have her claim go through mandatory arbitration -- a process in which she was charged the exorbitant fee of $185,000. Her attorney stated that if she had her claim go before a judge in court it only would have cost her $450 in court fees.

She has since filed a declaratory judgement with the court to have the mandatory arbitration agreement invalidated. Per her claim, no person subjected to sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace should be forced to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars to have their case heard. The issue has caught the attention of state lawmakers who claim that mandatory arbitration such as this has a chilling effect on victims of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

It is easy to see how mandatory arbitration policies like this one can have a silencing effect in which victims of sexual harassment and discrimination are afraid to come out and file a claim. However, it is important for companies to get the message that the days of the "boys club" are over, and that everyone deserves respect in the workplace. It also is important to note that both women and men can face sexual harassment or discrimination. Those who do believe they have been subjected to such treatment should not be afraid to move forward with their claim, which may involve filing a complaint with the EEOC.

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