Sexual Harassment Claims Gain More Transparency Under Maryland Law, Uber Policy

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

May 17, 2018

The #MeToo movement revealed that a culture of sexual harassment thrives in secrecy and that bringing sexual harassment and misconduct claims to light is essential to ending these unlawful practices. To that end, Congress disallowed taking as a business deduction the cost of any settlement of a sexual harassment case that includes a nondisclosure agreement and many states, like New York, are enacting new laws targeting employers that hide sexual harassment settlements.

Maryland has now joined this trend with a new law forbidding employment contracts that require employees to waive their rights to bring sexual harassment claims. At the same time, Uber and Lyft have ended their mandatory arbitration requirements for individual sexual misconduct claims.

Maryland Bans Waivers

Effective October 1, 2018, the Maryland Disclosing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act of 2018 will prohibit and make void any clause in a contract, employment agreement or policy that requires employees to waive any substantive or procedural rights based on sexual harassment claims that arise during employment.

The law also prohibits employers from taking any adverse action against an employee who refuses to sign such an agreement. Employers that fail to comply can be required to pay the employee's attorneys' fees and costs.

In addition, Maryland employers with 50 or more employees are required to submit to the Maryland Commission on Human Rights on or before July 1, 2020, and again on or before July 1, 2022, a short survey stating:

  • The number of settlements made by or on behalf of the employer after a sexual harassment claim by an employee;
  • How many times the employer has paid a settlement to resolve sexual harassment allegations against the same employee over the past 10 years of employment; and
  • The number of settlements made after a sexual harassment claim that included a provision requiring both parties to keep the settlement terms confidential.

Ride-Sharing Companies End Required Arbitration

Uber announced this week that it no longer will require mandatory arbitration to resolve sexual misconduct claims by employees, drivers or riders against the company. Previously, victims were required to settle claims through arbitration and sign a nondisclosure agreement as part of any settlement. Mandatory arbitration provisions for class action sexual misconduct claims remain in effect.

On its blog, Uber said claimants now may opt to settle claims through mediation, where they can choose confidentiality; in arbitration, where they can opt to maintain their privacy while pursuing their case; or in court. "It's important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims," wrote Tony West, Uber's chief legal officer, "so moving forward, survivors will be free to choose to resolve their individual claims in the venue they prefer."

A few hours after Uber's announcement, Lyft also ended its mandatory arbitration and confidentiality requirements for sexual assault victims.