Tesla confronted by U.S. Senators regarding ‘forced arbitration’

Tesla has received a public letter from a group of U.S. Senators asking the company to alter its policy regarding forced arbitration.

Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, are no strangers to receiving public letters from the United States Senate. Senators, notably Richard Blumenthal and Elizabeth Warren, have often raised concerns regarding the company’s policies and tactics. Now, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has received yet another letter, this one regarding Tesla’s use of “forced arbitration.”

The letter published earlier this week, initially reported by CNBC, is signed by seven Senators, including Richard Blumenthal (D, CT), Sherrod Brown (D, OH), Dick Durbin (D, IL), Ed Markey (D, MA), Jeff Merkley (D, OR) Bernie Sanders (I, VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D, MA). As noted above, the letter focuses on Tesla’s use of “forced arbitration” within employment and consumer contracts.

As the Senators’ letter pointed out, forced arbitration is nothing new within America’s largest companies. In essence, forced arbitration is added to a contract to prevent the signatory from suing the contract issuer, instead forcing them to use a private arbitration system outside the public legal system. While technically, a contract signatory can appeal the arbitration clause to a public judge; they are often forced to remain within the private system. In the case of Tesla, this is used in employment and consumer contracts.

Besides keeping employee or consumer complaints out of the public eye, according to the Senators, when a case is settled within arbitration, it can result in significantly less or no rewards granted to potential victims.

In the case of Tesla, the group of Senators argue that this system of forced arbitration has hidden instances of sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and consumer safety issues from the public eye. As evidence of their claims, the Senators note that Tesla’s Fremont facility, in particular, has had five times the average number of lawsuits filed against it by employees, including a recent case of racial discrimination and sexual harassment.

Neither Tesla nor Elon Musk has responded publically to the allegations put forward in the letter from the Senators.

Besides asking for Tesla to end its use of forced arbitration, the Senators are also enquiring about the company’s past policy use. The senators include a laundry list of questions, including but not limited to asking how often the policy has been used, what types of suites the arbitration typically solves, and what consumer complaints have been addressed via the arbitration system.

The letter from the Senators is available below:

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