Forced Arbitration Steals the Rights of Those Who Serve

When the brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces are deployed they should not have to worry about certain burdens at home, such as losing their civilian jobs or suffering abuses and frauds by financial corporations. Congress has passed several laws to ease the burdens placed on military families, but an alarming number of our service members return to discover that they are unable to enforce these rights because of forced arbitration. 

Now, some members of Congress are taking action to close this legal loophole and ensure that corporations can no longer strip service members of their rights through the abusive use of forced arbitration.

Congress passed the “Servicemembers Civil Relief Act” (SCRA) in 2003 to ensure that our active military were focused on their mission at hand and not worried about financial stress at home. As such, SCRA grants additional financial and civil protections to members of the military when they are on active duty or abroad defending our country. However, SCRA rights have been increasingly undermined by corporations that bury forced arbitration clauses in the fine print of contracts SCRA is intended to cover. 

To right this wrong, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Representative Walter Jones (R-N.C.) introduced the “SCRA Rights Protection Act of 2015,” [S.2331/H.R. 4161]. This bipartisan bill would render all forced arbitration clauses unenforceable against service members for any contracts that affect their SCRA rights.

Similarly, the “Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994” (“USERRA”) ensures that service members who leave civilian jobs for military service can do so knowing they have the right to return to their employment with the same pay, benefits, and status after their military obligations are complete.

Unfortunately, by burying a forced arbitration clause in the fine print of employment agreements, corporations are able to evade USERRA protections and discriminate against service members without ever being held accountable in court. Instead, service members attempting to assert their USERRA rights are kicked out of court and funneled into a rigged, secretive arbitration proceeding decided by an arbitrator chosen by the employer. 

The “Justice for Servicemembers Act,” [S. 3042/H.R. 5462] introduced last month, seeks to correct this injustice by clarifying that USERRA guarantees members of the military the right to enforce their USERRA rights in court, even when their employer has buried a forced arbitration clause in its employment agreement. The bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI).  

“The brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces selflessly fight to protect our rights,” AAJ President Larry Tawwater said. “It is despicable that corporations would attempt to deny them their rights through the abusive use of forced arbitration.”