The U.S. Senate voted unanimously last week to pass a bill that would limit non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements in cases involving sexual harassment or sexual assault.
“NDAs have been weaponized by employers, corporations and others in power to cover up abuse and sexual misconduct,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who co-sponsored the legislation with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C.
“The Speak Out Act empowers survivors to make the decision about whether to tell their story—a choice they have been denied for too long,” Hirono said. “Survivors should not be forced into silence and this bill will help them come forward.”
The bill now moves to the House for consideration.
Under current law, individuals and organizations can use NDAs to prevent people who have experienced sexual harassment or assault from speaking publicly about their cases.
The bill’s authors note that 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 the workforce entirely.”
The Speak Out Act would prohibit the use of pre-dispute NDAs between employers and current, former and prospective employees and independent contractors, as well as between providers of goods and services and consumers. It would also allow states to enact additional protections.
Reps. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., and Ken Buck, R-Colo., introduced a companion bill in the House.
Hirono, who has made sexual harassment and assault key issues throughout her political career, has introduced or co-sponsored several bills addressing related aspects. Last year, she co-sponsored the bipartisan Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, which prevents individuals and organizations from being able to compel survivors of sexual harassment and assault in arbitration. The bill was signed into law in March.