Earlier this year, Susan Fowler sparked an uproar in the technology industry with allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at Uber. An internal investigation led to more than 200 employee complaints and at least 20 terminations. But Fowler may not be able to sue Uber in court. When she joined the ridesharing company, Uber required her to resolve any disputes through private arbitration and waive her right to participate in a class action.
Fowler, and Uber executives, will be among those watching closely Monday when the Supreme Court hears arguments on whether contract provisions such as Fowler’s are enforceable. The three cases before the Supreme Court involve an oil company, an accounting firm and a software company in Wisconsin. But Silicon Valley has a lot riding on the outcome, because many big tech firms, including Uber and Google, insert terms in their employment agreements that compel employees to arbitrate claims individually.
Harmeet Dhillon, who has represented employees in workplace disputes, says arbitration is unfair to employees because it forces them to keep the dispute private, limits the documents they can obtain from an employer, and limits their right to appeal, among other things. Employers don’t prefer arbitration “”because it results in a fairer and more even handed outcome,” she says. “They prefer it because it prefers them.”