Dec 19, 2017

Microsoft supports bill to address sexual harassment

Microsoft President Brad Smith. Photo: AP

Microsoft is throwing its weight behind a Senate bill that aims to ensure victims of workplace sexual harassment can make their case in court. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Kirsten Gillibrand recently introduced a bill outlawing provisions in an employment contract that require such claims to be handled in private arbitration rather than openly in court.

Why it matters: The tech industry has become embroiled in several sexual harassment scandals over the past year. Graham says as many as 60 million American workers have no legal ability to bring sexual harassment claims to court because they are bound by private arbitration clauses.

  • That means they are required to mediate any issue behind closed doors rather than in a public court. Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith said it is both endorsing the legislation and getting rid of such clauses in its own employment contracts.
  • "Clearly as we all learn more about the sexual harassment issue across the country, it is both more pervasive than most people would have thought a year ago, and it's an issue that's been allowed to perpetuate itself in part because the voices of victims have been silenced," Smith told Axios in an interview. "The ability to go to court makes sure those voices can be heard."

What he found: Smith said Microsoft has never enforced a private arbitration clause related to sexual harassment, but reviewed its own contracts and found clauses requiring pre-dispute arbitration for harassment claims in employment agreements for a small portion of its employees. Smith said "hundreds to a thousand" employees (mostly very senior positions out of 120,000 employees worldwide) were subject to such clauses. So the company is getting rid of them.

Beyond the company: He thinks the issue will continue to be a major conversation in the technology industry. "We've been among those that thought arbitration as an exclusive remedy was practical," he said. "It's clear that arbitration has not been sufficient to address this problem."

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In photos: Authorities issue warning as Americans venture out for Memorial Day weekend

Venice Beach in Los Angeles on May 24. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Authorities urged Americans to maintain social distancing and wear masks against the coronavirus amid reports of packed beaches and bars during the Memorial Day weekend.

Driving the news: Law enforcement stepped up beach patrols, authorities on Florida's Gulf Coast closed parking lots because they were full and there were crowded scenes at Lake of the Ozarks bars in Missouri, per AP, which reports a shooting injured several people at a packed Daytona Beach in Florida.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 5,405,029 — Total deaths: 344,997 — Total recoveries — 2,168,408Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 1,642,021 — Total deaths: 97,698 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 59 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Republicans sue California over mail-out ballot plan

California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a February news conference in Sacramento, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President Trump accused Democrats of trying "Rig" November's general election as Republican groups filed a lawsuit against California Sunday in an attempt to stop Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) from mailing ballots to all registered voters.

Driving the news: Newsom signed an executive order this month in response to the coronavirus pandemic ensuring that all registered voters in the state receive a mail-in ballot.