Last week, the #MeToo movement got a wake up call from the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Epic Systems Corp v. Lewis. The ruling allows companies to make forced arbitration a condition of employment, and prohibits workers from taking collective legal action against employers. It’s bad news for the 60 million Americans subject to forced arbitration, and even worse for the one in three women victimized by workplace sexual harassment.
But let me be clear: This is not the end of #MeToo or the empowerment revolution kicked off by my 2016 settlement with Roger Ailes. As I’ve said for many months, the first step is telling the truth—the next step is changing the system. Now our movement must shift course and focus relentlessly on one thing: fixing the law.
Forced arbitration is a sexual harasser’s best friend: It keeps proceedings secret, findings sealed, and victims silent. But its impact goes much further. Of the thousands of women I spoke to while writing Be Fierce, the vast majority who complained about harassment never worked in their chosen careers again. Blacklisting is common post-arbitration, because the facts don’t come out in trial, victims are silenced, and predators often keep their jobs. Guess who controls the narrative in that scenario? With the offended party out of the picture, workplaces become—in actor Asia Argento’s haunting words—a “hunting ground.”
I spent much of 2017 walking the halls of Congress, pushing legislators to take real, meaningful action to help harassment victims. Compromise may be the dirty c-word in politics today, but given the tidal wave of women coming forward, I felt a bi-partisan bill was possible. The issue attracts support from Democrats and Republicans alike because it’s impossible to rise up political ranks without being impacted by this crime. Predators don’t ask your party affiliation before they pounce—trust me, I’m a lifelong registered independent.
It was with immense pride that I joined legislators from both parties in December to introduce the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act,” which restores victims’ constitutional 7th Amendment right to a jury trial. Sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the bill now has 17 cosponsors. With the Supreme Court’s decision, my mission is to get it through Congress and down to the president’s desk for signature this year.
But this isn’t just an issue for Capitol Hill. Every statehouse must tackle forced arbitration, in its own halls and for constituents. In May, I traveled to California to support AB 3080, a bill authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. AB 3080 prohibits employers from requiring arbitration as a condition of getting a job, keeping it, or receiving benefits. And it forbids employers from retaliating against those who decline to sign. This is a model piece of legislation that truly delivers for working women. Other states, take note.
Companies can and must also step up. Microsoft (MSFT) and Uber have both ended forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims, and any company trying to recruit talented women must do the same. It’s a differentiator, and trust me: The women are watching.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is a painful blow. But it tells us something important: Change doesn’t come from a hashtag—it comes from sustained political action by women (and men) from both parties. So take heart. This isn’t the end of anything; it’s the start of everything. Twenty-two months ago, I watched breaking news stories about me and my former boss scroll across my Facebook (FB), television, and Twitter (TWTR) feeds. I’d been fired after a 25-year career in journalism—a career I’d worked so damn hard to build. There was no #MeToo movement then, no #TimesUp pins, no nothing. It felt like the end of the road. It wasn’t. It’s time to organize, ladies. It’s time to be fierce.
Gretchen Carlson is an acclaimed TV journalist and women’s empowerment advocate. Her most recent book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, was a New York Times bestseller