Sexual Harassment, Non-Disclosure Agreements and the #MeToo Movement

Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg recently vowed to release former female employees from the non-disclosure agreements they signed in connection with their sexual harassment lawsuit settlements at his namesake company. The announcement came just days after Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren slammed Bloomberg over the agreements during the Democratic presidential debates in Las Vegas. Bloomberg said in a statement he had identified three non-disclosure agreements that were signed in resolution of complaints against statements he personally had made to his female employees. Those settlements were reached over 30 years ago. sexual harassment lawyer

Debate moderators had raised the question of Bloomberg’s past remarks about women, to which the billionaire responded that he would not tolerate the kind of behavior that #MeToo exposed. That’s when Warren made a point to underscore the non-disclosure agreements. Bloomberg downplayed both the number of non-disclosure agreements in which he was involved and the nature of what was alleged, characterizing the allegations as “maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.”

Bloomberg is far from the only person to come under fire for non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases. Numerous women reportedly harassed and/or assaulted by Harvey Weinstein were compelled to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to settle their cases against him. The same was reportedly done in cases involving USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.

Our Los Angeles sexual harassment attorneys believe that employees need to educate themselves about what non-disclosure agreements are, how they work and what your rights are if you’re asked to sign one.

What is a Non-Disclosure Agreement?

Non-disclosure agreements, also sometimes called confidentiality agreements, they generally prohibit one or more person from disclosing the terms of a civil settlement. The agreements describe what information a person can and cannot discuss publicly and the length of time for which the agreement is valid. These can sometimes include non-disparagement clauses in which the person signing is not allowed to bad-mouth the party that formed the agreement.

Non-disclosure agreements can be used for a variety of settlements, though they are highly controversial in sexual harassment cases because they have the effect of protecting the harassers/institutions that protected the harassers while silencing the victims.

What are My Rights?

First and foremost, you should never sign any agreement – non-disclosure agreement included – without first seeking the advice of an attorney. Sometimes these agreements are written as overly-broad. This is a red flag that it’s intended to muzzle someone from speaking up about improprieties. Another red flag is if the agreement precludes someone from ever speaking negatively about the company.

Workers should also be wary of signing non-disclosure agreements that contain liquidated damages provisions that require the signer to fork over huge sums proportionate to the settlement amount per violation of a non-disclosure agreement.

Sexual harassment victims in California have added protections, thanks to a #MeToo-inspired law that went into effect in September 2018. The law prohibits non-disclosure agreements that bar a victim of  sexual harassment or sexual assault from talking about it publicly. The law is applicable to workers in both the public and private sectors when the NDA would prevent the disclosure of factual information pertaining to acts of sexual assault and harassment, failure to prevent these acts or retaliation.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949-375-4734.

Additional Resources:

Mike Bloomberg said he’ll release ex-employees from NDAs. Here’s why you should think twice before signing one, Feb. 24, 2020, MarketWatch

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