President Obama signed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (H.R. 3326) on December 19, 2009. Section 8116 of that Act significantly restricts the ability of defense contractors and subcontractors to enter into or enforce agreements that require employees or independent contractors to arbitrate certain claims.

In particular, section 8116 provides that no funds appropriated under the Act may be spent on any federal contract in excess of $1 million that is awarded 60 or more days after the effective date of the Act, unless the contractor agrees not to:

  • Enter into any agreement with any of its employees or independent contractors that requires, as a condition of employment, that the employee or independent contractor agree to resolve through arbitration any claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention; or
  • Take any action to enforce any provision of an existing agreement with an employee or independent contractor that mandates that the employee or independent contractor resolve through arbitration any claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention.

Section 8116 also provides that no funds appropriated by the Act may be spent on any federal contract in excess of $1 million that is awarded 180 or more days after the effective date of the Act, unless the contractor certifies that each of its subcontractors with a subcontract worth more than $1 million has agreed not to enter into or seek to enforce any provision of any agreement described above with respect to any employee or independent contractor who is or will be performing work related to the subcontract.

The Secretary of Defense may waive the application of these provisions to a particular contractor or subcontractor for the purposes of a particular contract or subcontract, if the Secretary or the Deputy Secretary personally determines, with a specific explanation, that the waiver is necessary to avoid harm to national security interests of the United States, and that the term of the contract or subcontract is not longer than necessary to avoid such harm.

Congress is considering more sweeping restrictions on arbitration that would apply to every employer. The Arbitration Fairness Act (H.R. 1020, S. 931), which now has 106 cosponsors in the House and 11 cosponsors in the Senate, would prohibit the enforcement of all pre-dispute agreements to arbitrate employment disputes (other than in collective bargaining agreements), civil rights disputes, consumer disputes, or franchise disputes, and would require courts, rather than arbitrators, to decide the validity or enforceability of any such agreement.