Forced Arbitration Trumps Workers’ Rights

Ji-In Houck, a promising graduate of Georgetown Law, was hired as a contract attorney for the California office of a Washington, DC-based corporate law firm, Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

Despite garnering praise in her performance reviews and working her way up to being an associate with the firm, she was consistently earning about 30 percent less than her male counterparts – even her bonuses fell short of what males in the office were receiving. Realizing she would never be able to catch up with her peers, Ji-In left the firm.

But she wasn’t the only woman who experienced drastic pay discrepancies while working for Steptoe.

Ji-In filed a lawsuit on behalf of other women to hold the law firm accountable in court for systemic gender pay discrimination. As a part of their claim, they asked that Steptoe compensate female attorneys fairly and take action to address the firm’s equal pay and opportunity issues.

However, Ji-In and her colleagues will not be getting their day in court.

Like so many, Ji-In’s initial offer letter from Steptoe included a forced arbitration agreement. Despite her efforts to join with others to fight for equal pay, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis, Ernst & Young v. Morris, and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil stripped Ji-In, and other workers like her, of the right to bring class actions for labor law violations by allowing employers like Steptoe to force workers into individual arbitration.

Because of this devastating decision, Ji-In and her colleagues will have to take on Steptoe alone in a system that is rigged against them. And this won’t be the last case: employers put forced arbitration in all types of agreements and other contracts and will view this decision as a green light to continue their discriminatory practices knowing they will be shielded from accountability.

The time is now for Congress to restore workers’ rights, for Ji-In and for every worker whose rights have been violated by the Epic decision.