As GOP Pushes For Blanket Corporate Immunity, Schakowsky Introduces COVID Justice and Accountability Act to Protect Americans’ Rights

May 26, 2020
Press Release

EVANSTON, IL – Today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), a Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is introducing the COVID Justice and Accountability Act to ensure everyone has a private right of action for a violation of COVID-19 federal laws. Schakowsky is joined by Congressmen Mark Takano (CA-41) and Jesús “Chuy” García(IL-04).

“During this public health crisis, it is critical that Americans’ rights are protected. This Administration has shown us that it has no intention of fairly carrying out and enforcing the laws Congress passed to help our nation recover from the devastating effects of this pandemic. In fact, Mitch McConnell is leading Senate and House Republicans in a push to shield corporations from any responsibility, all while pushing to ignore the science to instead reopen the economy. A private right of action is critical for ensuring that patients, workers, consumers, and others hit hardest by this virus have access to justice if they are harmed by a violation of the Families First or CARES Act,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky. “A worker who becomes critically ill after being forced to work in unsafe conditions, a single mom who is denied COVID-19 testing and treatment, a small business owner improperly denied a recovery loan to stay afloat, and an airline employee whose hours have been unilaterally cut all deserve their day in court. The COVID Accountability and Justice Act will ensure that these individuals have access to justice and COVID-19 law breakers are held accountable.”

“This pandemic has upended life as we know it and the health and safety of every American is paramount as our country moves toward gradual re-opening,” said Congressman Takano. “This legislation is critical to ensuring that individuals have legal recourse if they endure harm due to someone knowingly violating federal law during this pandemic. Re-opening our economy must take into consideration the health and well-being of our communities, and those who rush to re-open while disregarding measures to keep people safe must also be prepared to be held accountable.”

“Corporations are using forced arbitration to gag workers and evade protections established in recent coronavirus legislation. That’s why we are introducing the COVID Justice and Accountability Act, which would ban forced arbitration and ensure workers can seek justice in court. Businesses should always be held accountable for the health and safety of their workers and during this pandemic, the ability to enforce worker protections is a matter of life or death,” said Congressman García.

As the Trump Administration has become increasingly interested in limiting COVID-19 liability and providing blanket immunity that could undercut the rights of workers, patients, consumers, and vulnerable populations, we have also seen federal courts begin interpreting the CARES Act. The District Court of Maryland recently held that CARES does not provide a private right of action, thereby barring small businesses relief after a bank denied their application for PPP loans.  Without a private right to action, the courtroom doors will be closed to those who need access most.

The COVID Justice and Accountability Act also waives all predispute arbitration agreements arising under employment, consumer, antitrust, and civil rights law during the period of the national emergency and for 180 days after it ends. The bill also ensures that a federal judge, not an arbitrator, will decide the enforceability of any predispute arbitration agreement.

This legislation is supported by organizations like Public Citizen, National Consumers League, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, Earth Justice, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Communications Workers of America, the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, the National Employment Law Project, and AFL-CIO.

“Real justice means that the people’s courts — not private corporate tribunals like those in forced arbitration proceedings — decide who gets access to justice,” said Patrice Simms, Vice President of Litigation and head of the Access to Justice program at Earthjustice. “Now more than ever, we need to protect workers’ and consumers’ right to hold corporations accountable for their abuses. We thank Congresswoman Schakowsky for her efforts to protect the public, especially when people’s lives are on the line.”

Robyn Grant, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care stated “Consumer Voice is pleased to endorse the COVID Justice and Accountability Act. We applaud Congresswoman Schakowsky’s efforts to ban arbitration during the COVID-19 crisis at a time when nursing home residents are particularly at risk. Seeking legal action when there has been harm or neglect is essential to protecting the safety and health of nursing home residents, and is more essential than ever before now that there is little to no oversight in nursing homes.  We look forward to working to achieve passage of this important bill.”

Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of The National Consumers League said “the National Consumer League supports legislation to protect consumers from forced arbitration clauses during this era of COVID-19. We applaud Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky for her unique leadership and vision in outlawing these toxic forced arbitration clauses as our country recovers from this horrible virus. ”