Local sexual harassment survivor fights to change employee rights law
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A local victim of sexual harassment in the workplace faced another nightmare after she came forward, confronting her bosses.
It all played out behind closed doors, because of one paper she signed.
She could not take her case to court for justice in front of a jury for them to decide.
But now this won’t happen to you or your loved ones because she spoke out, helping to change the law.
Lora Henry of Canton never expected to share what happened to her with so many people.
“I’m here today because I’m a victim of sexual harassment,” she said.
Henry faced sexual harassment at work.
“I felt ashamed, I felt embarrassed. I really didn’t know who to talk to, who to turn to, who I could trust,” she said.
She eventually got up the courage to go to her bosses about it.
But then she got fired.
“It was very painful,” Henry said.
But she didn’t give up, she got an attorney.
And that’s when she learned she signed something called an arbitration agreement.
It was just one document buried inside a packet of papers she signed when she got the job.
Attorney Brian Spitz with Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, explains.
“So they do things like slip them, a sentence here, a couple of sentences there, into a big agreement so employees don’t see it,” Spitz said.
Because of this, Henry couldn’t take her company to court.
Instead, the company paid for the arbitrator to settle everything behind closed doors.
“Never do you get a fair shot. The employers are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars over an arbitration over a claim that’s worth not even that much, to keep the arbitration secret, to prevent the facts from coming out, to make sure the damages are less, to give them a better chance to win,” Spitz said.
And because of that, the cycle of sexual harassment or assault often continues.
“The next employee will never know what happens to the employee before then. And the employee after that will never know about the two employees that it happened to before them,” Spitz said.
All of this was heartbreaking for Henry to find out.
“First I was angry because I thought, how can someone do this to another person, and nothing will be done about it?” Henry said.
19 Investigates found arbitration agreements at workplaces are common.
About 56% of non-union employees in the private sector are subject to these mandatory employment arbitration procedures, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute.
This affects about 60 million workers across the country.
For survivors of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace though, those days are now over.
Changing the law
Henry eventually took her story to Capitol Hill and testified in front of Congress.
Now, because of her bravery and the bravery of other women like her, The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault & Sexual Harassment Act has become law.
Henry was there at the White House when President Biden signed it, restoring survivors’ rights.
The law allows employees to take their allegations of sexual harassment or assault to court with a jury, instead of being forced into arbitration.
“I just cried, I felt—I was so glad I was able to do this, to help other people,” Henry said.
Spitz believes many more victims will come forward now.
“Women like Lora, particularly women like Lora who stepped up to protect other women, are the biggest heroes in this. Her efforts to go before Congress and tell them in excruciating detail the sexual harassment she faced, will change the lives of millions of working women going forward,” he said.
Now that she’s found her voice, Henry wants you to know if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, you’re not alone.
“Don’t be ashamed, it’s not your fault. Don’t be embarrassed, you have to take care of yourself. Just talk to somebody, get some help,” she said.
This is one big win, but attorneys say the fight for employee rights is not over.
Forced arbitration is still legal against employees who have been racially harassed or discriminated against because of their age or their pregnancy.
But lawmakers have the power to change this.
Resources for sexual assault and harassment
Nearly four out of 10 women have been sexually harassed at work.
And no matter their gender, the majority of victims don’t report it.
Here are some resources if you or a loved one are struggling with sexual assault or harassment.
-U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
Read more about sexual harassment at work here.
-Cleveland Rape Crisis Center:
You can find services, including for assault, here.
-RAINN: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network:
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673)
Read more about harassment here.
-Workplaces Respond, A National Resource Center:
Read more about harassment here.
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