Legal and Practical Impact on Fund Managers of New Federal Law Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment and Assault Claims

Mandatory, predispute arbitration agreements have become popular in the private funds industry. Employers and other supporters point to arbitration as a fast, efficient and, perhaps most importantly, confidential method to resolve employment-related disputes. Some employees and employee advocates, however, believe mandatory arbitration silences victims and allows employers to avoid the full consequences of their unlawful conduct. Those criticisms intensified in the #MeToo era and led several state legislatures to ban predispute arbitration agreements as to sexual harassment – and, in some cases, all discrimination – claims. Those state laws have been largely ineffective because courts found them to be preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). In response, Congress recently created an exemption to the FAA – the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (the Act) – that significantly limits the ability of PE firms, their portfolio companies and other employers to implement and enforce arbitration agreements as to claims alleging sexual harassment or sexual assault. In a guest article, Jeffrey W. Rubin and J. Ian Downes, counsel and partner, respectively, at Dechert LLP, explore the backdrop against which the Act was passed; prohibitions in the Act; unanswered questions left by the Act; and practical steps PE firms and their portfolio companies can take now to address the Act in existing and future arbitration agreements. See “How Investment Managers Can Prevent and Manage Claims of Harassment in the Age of #MeToo” (Dec. 14, 2017).

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