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House Poised to Limit Use of NDAs in Workplace Harassment, Assault Cases

November 16, 2022 by Dan McCue
House Poised to Limit Use of NDAs in Workplace Harassment, Assault Cases
(Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com via UnSplash)

WASHINGTON — The House is expected to vote Wednesday on a bill that would limited the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims of workplace sexual assault and harassment.

In a party line, 215 to 208 vote on Tuesday, members voted in favor  of a resolution to consider S. 4524, alternatively known as the Speak Out Act.

Four Democrats and five Republicans did not vote on the measure.

According to today’s edition of “The Daily Leader” from the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the House will take up legislative business at noon today, and likely vote on the act later this afternoon.

The bipartisan Speak Out Act passed in the Senate by unanimous consent in September.

In a joint statement at the time, its primary Senate sponsors, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y, Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., lauded their colleagues for taking “another big step in strengthening workplace protections and guarding against the use of predispute NDAs in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases, which are often used to coerce silence.

“We look forward to the House passing this bill expeditiously so we can fix this broken system and help end the days of institutional protection for perpetrators,” they added.

Under current law, organizations can use NDAs to prevent survivors of sexual harassment or assault from speaking publicly about these incidents. 

Backers of the legislation argue the threat of legal retaliation creates and enables a culture of silence that allows predators to continue their illegal conduct, while their victims are forced out of their careers and denied justice.

Specifically, the the Speak Out Act would:

Prohibit the applicability of pre-dispute NDAs between employers and current, former, and prospective employees, as well as independent contractors, in cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Prohibit the applicability of pre-dispute NDAs between providers of goods and services and consumers in cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment; and invalidate existing predispute NDAs in cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment that have not yet been filed.

The House companion bill was introduced in June by Reps. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., and Ken Buck, R-Colo.

“Sexual harassment in the workplace forces many survivors to pass up on opportunities for advancement, leave their jobs, or their industry altogether,” Frankel said in a press release last summer. 

“By allowing their stories to be told without pre-imposed penalties, this bill will make workplaces across the country safer and more productive for employers, employees, and consumers.”

Buck agreed, saying “it’s time to end predispute nondisclosure agreements, which silence victims of assault and harassment and prevent them from speaking out against the perpetrators.”

Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson and political activist Julie Roginsky, founders of Lift Our Voices, a nonprofit dedicated to the eradication of nondisclosure agreements called the introduction of the Speak Out Act in both chambers “a significant moment for millions of Americans who have been forced to suffer in silence even as they have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. 

“These survivors and witnesses are currently prevented from disclosing the truth to their colleagues, their friends, and even their family members,” Carlson and Roginsky said in a joint statement after the House bill was introduced. 

“This culture of silence protects predators, and drives countless women and men from their jobs and careers. 

“Following the passage of historic federal legislation that we championed ending the use of forced arbitration clauses that also silenced survivors from speaking out about their experiences, we are grateful to the courageous members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who are joining the fight to make workplaces safer for us all,” they said.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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