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Google boosts the odds that sexual harassment cases will see the light of day

Google (GOOGGOOGL) said Thursday it will no longer require its employees to agree to mandatory arbitration as a condition of employment.

The company, which has been under scrutiny for how it handles sexual harassment, said it would drop forced arbitration clauses for all categories of employment-related disputes, plus allow current employees to litigate past claims.

In November, after more than 20,000 Google employees staged a walkout in protest of the company’s policies, Google announced it would make arbitration optional specifically for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims.

A spokesperson for Google told Yahoo Finance the company came to the decision to adopt a broader policy by dropping all mandatory arbitration requirements after several months of listening to and consulting with different groups.

The change will take effect March 21 and will apply to current and future employees. Claims already settled may not be reopened.

According to Wired, Google’s new policy will also no longer prevent aggrieved employees from filing class-action suits.

Workers protest against Google's handling of sexual misconduct allegations at the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A significant change

The change is significant in that it offers a more realistic chance for sexual harassment claimants to see their day in court.

Sexual harassment actions, filed as stand-alone claims, are limited to recovery of emotional damages, which can be difficult to quantify and tough to predict. The unpredictable nature of financial outcomes makes it challenging for claimants without significant resources to retain an attorney.

“Sexual harassment claims alone will never see the light of day, in all likelihood,” Richard Hoyer, a San Francisco lawyer with expertise in employment disputes told Yahoo Finance in December, before Google got rid of mandatory arbitration for all categories of employment-related disputes. Hoyer brought an action against Google on behalf a former Google programmer, Loretta Lee, who claimed she was sexually harassed by former co-workers and discriminated against by the company.

Under California law, Google’s short-lived policy that exempted only sexual harassment and sexual assault disputes from arbitration, would have required those claims to be delayed until related claims were handled through arbitration.

“That is basically wiped out,” Hoyer said of Google’s former policy, “unless the plaintiff were going to sacrifice the money claims in order to get their day in court.

“Part of the justice that is available to sexual harassment victims is actually getting the chance to tell their story in front of a jury,” Hoyer said.

According to Bloomberg, as of July more than 50% of Google’s workforce is comprised of contractors and temporary employees.

TechCrunch reports that Google plans to remove forced arbitration clauses from its contracts with direct contractors.

Alexis Keenan is a New York-based reporter for Yahoo Finance. She previously produced live news for CNN and is a former litigation attorney. Follow her on Twitter at @alexiskweed

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