Why it matters

A California lawmaker has introduced legislation that would prohibit the use of confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements involving sexual assault, harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino), who sponsored the Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures (STAND) Act, said the measure would protect others from being victimized. “As we have clearly seen over the last few months, secret settlements serve one primary purpose: to keep sexual predators away from the public eye and continuing to torment and hurt innocent victims,” she said in a statement. SB 820, backed by the Consumer Attorneys of California and the California Women’s Law Center, would apply to both public and private employers. Related legislation is currently being considered at the federal level, with a bill that would prohibit arbitration agreements in cases involving sexual harassment and the inclusion of a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to prohibit deductions for settlements or payments related to sexual harassment or abuse if the payment is subject to a nondisclosure agreement.

Detailed discussion

As the movement to end sexual harassment continues to make headlines, California Sen. Connie Leyva has proposed legislation to ban the use of secret settlements. Pursuant to Senate Bill 820, those accused of sexual assault, harassment or discrimination in the workplace would be prohibited from using a confidentiality provision as part of a settlement agreement.

The Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures (STAND) Act would cover both private and public employers, applying to agreements entered into on or after Jan. 1, 2019, and making them void as a matter of law and against public policy. The proposed legislation would also provide that a court may consider the pleadings and other papers in the record or any other findings of the court in determining the factual foundation of the causes of action.

Many of the high-profile reports of sexual harassment or assault that have come to light in recent months have included the use of such confidentiality agreements, Sen. Leyva noted.

“These perpetrators should not be allowed to endanger others or evade justice simply because they have a fat wallet at their disposal,” the lawmaker said in a statement. “SB 820 will not prevent people from mutually agreeing to settle, but it will simply prevent the perpetrator from requiring the victim to remain silent about the harassment as a condition of settlement. Everyone deserves to live and work free from sexual harassment, assault and discrimination. The STAND Act helps end the curtain of secrecy that has existed for far too long.”

The bill is currently under consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

To read SB 820, click here.