Years after Tanuja Gupta helped organize the Google walkout, she’s celebrating the success of a broader effort: a new federal law that ends forced arbitration in cases of sexual misconduct in the workplace.
Gupta and other organizers led thousands of Google employees around the world as they walked off the job in 2018 to protest the company’s handling of sexual-misconduct accusations. They then formed an advocacy group that helped force Google to remove mandatory arbitration — a common tactic used to silence allegations of sexual harassment and abuse — and turned to advocating for change on a larger level.
On Thursday, Gupta watched President Joe Biden sign the legislation in Washington. Biden said the new law affects an estimated 60 million workers who had been subject to mandatory arbitration.
But Gupta said in an interview with MarketWatch after the signing that there is still more to do.
“This is a huge first step,” she said.
Gupta, a senior program manager at Google
helped organize the walkout after the New York Times reported that the company paid some executives millions of dollars to leave the company quietly after they were accused of sexual misconduct. She and other organizers then formed an offshoot called Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration, applying pressure until Alphabet Inc. stopped making arbitration mandatory in employment agreements in 2019.
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The group then worked with lawmakers and other advocates who were part of the “Me Too” movement, and “were incredibly critical” to the passage of the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, according to one of the sponsors of the legislation, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.
“The game-changer on this legislation was Tanuja entering her testimony for the House Judiciary Committee and the survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault who were brave enough to come forward,” Bustos said in an interview with MarketWatch on Thursday night.
The new law allows those who experience sexual assault or harassment in the workplace to file suit instead of being subjected to mandatory arbitration. U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced the bill in the Senate in 2017. Bustos did the same, and re-introduced the legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives last year along with Reps. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wa.
“Effective now, forced arbitration clauses are null and void,” Bustos said. “Now sexual predators in the workplace risk making their bad behavior public.”
Jessica Ramey Stender, policy director at Equal Rights Advocates, said it is the first major federal legislation to become law out of the #MeToo movement, and in a statement called it “an incredible victory for women workers nationwide.”
Gupta, who has written about experiencing sexual harassment herself, said she has become friends with some of the survivors who have testified before lawmakers over the years on this issue, including Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who sued then-Fox News Chief Executive Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. After helping force change at Google and working with those advocating for the same issues at a national level, Gupta saw parallels in the two efforts.
“The walkout was a moment and it spurred certain changes,” she said. “For Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration, it was months before we made change at Google.”
It took years for federal legislation to get passed, but it’s just the beginning. The backers of this legislation now want to eliminate other forced arbitration clauses, including for consumers who agree not to sue ride-hailing companies, nursing homes or other businesses that routinely ask their customers to sign away their rights to sue when they pay for products or services.
Despite what lies ahead, Gupta said that “in 11 years of working at Google, this is the most proud I’ve ever been of my work.”
“When you think bigger, it can make a difference,” she said. “We didn’t want to go company by company, we wanted this to be legislation.”