Karen Ward was sexual harassed by her boss and then later faced retaliation when she spoke up. Ward, a former Ernst & Young employee, was then later fired. Ward is now fighting back but the case is costing her a surprising amount of money in order to bring the case to court.
So far she has paid $185,000 to have judges hear the discrimination and sexual harassment complaint against her former employer. This firm makes billions of dollars in revenue yearly, according to the complaint Ward filed in federal court. In the court filing, Ward asks about how many victims can afford to pay this much money in order to have their claims heard.
The costs have added up because her case is in arbitration, which means it’s in a private court and not a part of the public justice system. These cases are heard by retired lawyers or judges who will bill the parties as much as $1,000 an hour to hear the cases. A panel of three different arbitrators is hearing Ward’s specific case. The reason she has to go through with arbitration is because her employment contract contained a forced arbitration clause. Many companies include this to prevent allegations from any former employees from going public. If she were able to file the harassment claims publicly in the state of New York, where the company is based, the costs would only be about $450.
Ward is arguing that the high costs of arbitration mean the employment agreement is unenforceable and she wants the right to take the suit to open court. The fight against the high fees isn’t just about her. She is able to pay these fees with her savings but believes that discrimination and retaliation are wrong and shouldn’t be ignored. Lawyers say the company knows that these high fees can cause other women to never bring these claims. If Ward is able to get her case before a jury, she could win millions.
This case helps to shine a light on arbitration, which is a process that will usually advantage larger employers over the workers. Companies have a lot of advantages in arbitration since it discourages employees from filing a case and it’s usually private. If an employee does win, the payouts are usually much lower than in a public case.