Gretchen Carlson praises legislation ending forced arbitration in assault cases The former Fox news anchor says the bill's passage means that survivors of sexual assault in the workplace will no longer be silenced by a secretive arbitration practice.

Law

Gretchen Carlson praises bill that ends forced arbitration in sexual assault cases

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1080420139/1080420140" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This week, Congress passed a bill that could fundamentally change how workplaces handle claims of sexual misconduct. The bill, known as the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, is intended to do exactly what it says - to end the practice of allowing companies to require employees to give up the right to go to court in those matters. Instead, companies have hired third-party arbitrators to resolve those claims privately. In recent years, the practice has faced a lot of criticism. Because allegations of misconduct are never released to the public, there's usually not an opportunity to appeal the outcomes.

One of its toughest critics has been former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson. You may recall that in 2016, Carlson sued then-CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. She's since become one of the most visible advocates for helping workers with similar experiences and was involved in helping get this latest bill passed, and she's with us now to tell us more. Gretchen Carlson, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

GRETCHEN CARLSON: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: It's been a long road to get to this point, and I was just wondering if you thought it would take this long.

CARLSON: Well, with Congress, you never know. I mean, especially in these hyperpolitical, partisan times, the idea that we could get both parties to come together on this, you know, the big, huge question mark is when was that ever going to happen? And I've just seen a tonal shift in the last five years since I've been walking the halls of Congress, trying to get people on my side, meaning that mostly, I was trying to work on Republicans because it tends to be more of a Democratic issue.

And I just saw a tonal shift with Republicans realizing, I think, that the movement is not going away. And it was kind of like, raise your hand if you're in favor of continuing to silence women who are harassed and assaulted in the workplace. OK, I see nobody's raising their hands. And so, you know, I think that many politicians came to the realization that I guess we're going to have to do something about this or it's not going to make us look very good.

MARTIN: Talk about, if you would, your case against then-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. Obviously, it kind of exploded into public view. I'm sure that was a very traumatic experience for you. But, you know, forced arbitration sounds like one of those kind of, you know, wonky, arcane, kind of technical things that people don't tend to think about when they're starting a job. So when did you understand what it was and how it was going to affect how you handled that situation, how you were able to proceed in that situation?

CARLSON: Yeah - such a great question because you're 100% correct. People have no idea whether or not they have a forced arbitration clause in their employment contract. And even if they do know, like I did know in my last contract at Fox they put one in, I knew it was there, and I asked about it but didn't understand the ramifications of how it would affect me going forward with the lawsuit that I was already thinking about. I didn't understand that if I decided to come forward with my lawsuit of harassment, that it would mean that I was going to go to this secret chamber instead of being able to have my Seventh Amendment right to go to an open jury process.

And so when I finally assembled my legal team a few years later, they looked at me, and they looked at my contract, and they said, we have some really bad news for you. They said, you're going to arbitration, and nobody's ever going to hear from you ever again. And that is how, luckily, my lawyer strategically came up with the plan to sue Roger Ailes personally instead of Fox News as an entity to try to circumvent the arbitration clause and at least make my case public.

MARTIN: So this bill was first introduced in 2017, and it was bipartisan. Even then, many Republicans did not support it. Now, you just told us that you really focused your attention on Republican lawmakers who had been skeptical or who'd previously voted no, and you were able to get them to change their minds. Can you just tell us, without violating any confidence - of course, I don't care if you do - what were those conversations like? Can you just tell us a little bit about it?

CARLSON: I'll just point out somebody who became a champion of it, which was Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, told me to my face in September when I met with him, I voted against it last time, but you've changed my mind. And not only did he decide to vote for it. He became an advocate, so much so in House Judiciary that he pulled along, you know, other Republicans to meet with me and, you know, ended up introducing the amendment on the floor last Monday night that actually, you know, got this through to get even more Republicans changing the definition slightly of sexual harassment. So that's just a prime example of somebody who, you know, looked at me and said, I admire what you've been doing the last five years. You've changed my mind, and now I'm going to be on the other side of this.

MARTIN: I'm curious about how you respond to some of the criticism of this bill. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed a previous iteration of the bill, claiming that arbitration is a - and I'm quoting them here - "a fair, effective and less expensive means of resolving disputes, compared to going to court," unquote. It also claimed that arbitration doesn't stop survivors from going public. How do you respond to that?

CARLSON: Well, first of all, the Chamber of Commerce is not the Chamber of Commerce that you grew up with in your small town in America. This is a big, huge lobbying group, and they have tremendous influence, especially with Republicans. And while they did not come out publicly against the bill this particular time, they were doing a lot of work behind the scenes to try and kill it. And by the way, arbitration is not cheaper in all cases. I can tell you cases of women right now who are in arbitration for harassment, and they've already spent upwards of $250,000 of their own life saving, and they haven't even started receiving yet. So the company always can outspend an individual, and I think in this case, the chamber would not publicly come out against me because, again, there's been a shift over the last five years. But trust me, they were working against this vehemently. And this is a victory for all workers and for all millions of people who will no longer be silenced on these issues.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, can I ask, how do you think this whole experience has changed you? Has this fundamentally changed you in some way?

CARLSON: Yes. Passing this bill is my greatest life achievement other than the blessing of my two children. And it's more important than any interview I've ever done over 30 years in journalism. It doesn't even pale in comparison because this is not about Gretchen Carlson. This is about all the people that I'm helping who didn't have the same resources or national platform that I did to potentially work so hard to try to make this change. It's not like I ever envisioned being a poster child for harassment in the workplace, but, you know, I took the opportunity to make a difference. And if I can be inspirational to anyone else to show that one person can make a difference, then I hope that's been the case.

MARTIN: That was journalist and author Gretchen Carlson. Her latest book is "Be Fierce." Gretchen Carlson, thanks so much for your time.

CARLSON: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASIC BEATS' "AUTUMN AIR")

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.