March 27, 2019

Senator Warren Presses Top Labor Department Lawyer to Protect Workers Forced to Sign Away Important Legal Rights

Labor Solicitor's comments raise questions as to whether the DOL will defend workers who have signed forced arbitration agreements; Senator Warren requests clarification

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) today sent a letter to the Solicitor of Labor, Kate S. O'Scannlain, requesting information about the Department of Labor's (DOL's) approach to bringing enforcement actions against companies whose workers have signed forced arbitration agreements.

Her letter comes after Ms. O'Scannlain reportedly said that DOL "hasn't taken a definitive stance on whether it will pursue lawsuits against companies in cases where the workers have signed arbitration agreements" at a Practicing Law Institute event in New York in February 2019.

Often buried in the fine print of employment contracts, forced arbitration agreements prevent workers from suing their employers even if those employers steal their wages, endanger their safety, fail to protect them from workplace harassment, or violate their rights in other ways.

Senator Warren wrote to Ms. O'Scannlain, "As Solicitor of Labor, you are the top legal advisor at DOL. Your comments appeared to indicate that, under your watch, the Department may not be willing to protect groups of employees that--because they have effectively been forced to sign away important legal rights--are most in need of federal protection."

Senator Warren noted that the DOL's failure to protect workers from forced arbitration agreements would constitute a break from recent precedent and would be damaging to vulnerable workers nationwide. In the letter, she requested clarification and understanding of how DOL will handle cases involving forced arbitration clauses in the future.

She concluded, "Your comments were troublesome to the extent that they implied anything less than a firm commitment to pursue enforcement actions and/or litigation against employers using forced arbitration agreements when they have broken the law.  DOL's failure to act in these cases would amount to a disturbing change in policy that would strip important protections from millions of workers who need them most."

She requested answers to her questions by April 11, 2019.