How a Lois Frankel-Initiated Injunction Now Limits Use of NDAs for Sexual Misconduct Victims

A new federal law prohibits nondisclosure agreements used to silence victims of sexual assault and harassment.

The Speak Out Act grew out of the #MeToo movement, which drew attention to the way nondisclosure agreements are being used to prevent people who have been assaulted or harassed from telling anyone, including close family members, what they have suffered.

“We’re opening the mouths of survivors of sexual assault and harassment,” said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, a lead sponsor of the House legislation. “The implication of having these NDAs or all these gimmicks is that people have to suffer in silence and the abuser can continue to abuse without the other person knowing.”

Nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs, are common, Frankel said. Frankel said people are unaware that non-disclosure agreements are hidden in documents that employers or other businesses ask them to sign.

Lawyer Frankel said the language of NDAs is often difficult to understand and reads like Mandarin. “The terms are really high, and to the uninitiated, you don’t even know what you’re signing,” she said.

There are significant consequences for people not being able to speak out about being attacked or harassed, Frankel said in a phone interview. “Sexual harassment or assault, rape, it really just creates a huge psychological turn-off on people. What happens, even when they’re harassed, people sometimes quit. They don’t dare to come forward. They don’t get progress.”

In 2017, allegations of sexual assault and harassment emerged in movie mogul harvey weinstein. The following year, the bipartisan Congressional Women’s Caucus held a series of hearings in this problem. Frankel is the Democratic co-chair of the caucus.

“We’re just starting to get people in from all walks of life,” not just famous TV and movie stars who get a lot of media attention. “You name it, it’s happening in any field.”

Frankel said the caucuses heard from hotel maids wearing panic buttons, a farm worker described a supervisor who pulled women in the field aside and raped them, and a female welder who was called a lot of vulgar words by her male colleagues. name, so much so that she was turned away, a Silicon Valley CEO told to make herself “more attractive” and “go out on dates with clients.”

Frankel said NDA provisions started as a way to protect trade secrets and have since been applied more broadly.

“Essentially, the clause prohibits anyone who signs it from revealing information about their workplace. If you do, you’re punished. You can be fired. You can be sued,” she said.

As a result, victims of assault or harassment, Frankel said, “have to remain silent. If they don’t, then they are the ones who are punished, not the harasser or the rapist.”

Frankel said some business representatives claimed they needed to remain silent to protect the company’s reputation. “Companies are using these NDAs to cover up their dirty little secrets of sexual abuse. They force survivors to suffer the trauma in silence,” she said.

Now, Frankel said, companies will have an incentive to protect their reputations “by preventing this abuse in the first place.”

The Straight Talk Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden on December 7, prohibits the use of pre-disclosure nondisclosure agreements for victims of sexual misconduct. They may still exist in the contract, but are not enforceable.

Non-disclosure agreements after the fact are still allowed. As part of a settlement with an employer or business, a victim can agree to a non-disclosure agreement, Frankel said.

The new law also applies to contracts consumers sign with companies that provide services, such as maintenance or repairs, Frankel said.

the law also Prevent nondisclosure agreements from being used to block witnesses According to Lift Our Voices, a group that advocates for the law, sexual assault or harassment in the workplace occurs because of the disclosure of what they have seen.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, is the lead House sponsor of a 2022 law that would ban enforcement of non-disclosure agreements to prevent victims of sexual assault and harassment from disclosing what happened to them.

The legislation was supported Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor who was a key driver of the #MeToo movement and co-founder of the nonprofit Lift Our Voices. Carlson also advocated for another law signed earlier this year to end forced arbitration in workplace sexual harassment cases.

In 2016, Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against then-Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes.

The Straight Talk Act has unanimous support from Democrats and strong, but not universal, support from Republicans.

It passed the Senate by a unanimous vote.house Passed Legislation No. 315-109.

All House Democrats voted in favor. Republicans were split, with 100 voting in favor and 109 voting against. Seven Florida Republicans voted for the legislation; nine voted against it.

during the debate in the house of representativesRepublicans who opposed the measure argued that it was not a matter for the federal government and that it was up to the states to decide whether to limit NDAs.

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who plans to chair the Judiciary Committee when the Republicans take over the House in January, said the bill was “misguided, though well-intentioned,” and a “massive overreach by the federal government.” “.

“Congress shouldn’t be taking power from the states,” Jordan said.

Frankel responded during the debate that opponents had the wrong priorities. “We’re here to protect women from rape, not to protect states from rape,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) asserted that the new law would “empower non-survivors. That is, anyone who wishes to destroy someone’s life by bringing baseless allegations of sexual harassment will do so as well.” Authorization,” adding that it “gives false accusers a green light.”

Many Republicans support the legislation.

“People who have been sexually harassed or assaulted should be able to demand accountability in court or in the public square, and nondisclosure agreements should not prohibit survivors from choosing to share their stories,” U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, above Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee and co-sponsors of a bill said as the committee approved the measure.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks as she listens to President Joe Biden's signing in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 3. The Bill to End Mandatory Arbitration in Workplace Sexual Harassment Cases.

“It’s an amazing feeling when you know you’ve passed a law that’s going to help people. Really, it’s going to affect millions of people in a positive way,” Frankel said. “This will make the workplace safer and more productive.”

On December 15, Frankel joined 61 members of Congress in a Letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission Use its rulemaking power to require public companies to disclose the number and total amount of settlements, judgments and other awards resulting from workplace harassment and assault.

“By informing shareholders and the public of the costs associated with harassment and assault disputes, the SEC will be able to improve the accountability of these companies and incentivize them to prevent harassment and assault in the workplace,” said the letter led by Frankel.

Anthony Man can be reached at aman@sunsentinel.com or on Twitter @broad politics

Florida Republicans divided over blunt talk bill

Yes: Gus Bielakis, Kate Carmack, Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Jimenez, Bill Posey, Maria Elvira Salazar, Mike Waltz.

No: Vern Buchanan, Byron Donalds, Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, John Rutherford, Greg Steube, Daniel Webster.

Source: Roll Call, Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives.