In the wake of dozens of women accusing film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault, one California legislator is proposing doing away with confidential settlements.
California State Senator Connie Leyva says allowing individuals like Weinstein to escape justice by way of confidential settlements enables predators to continue finding new victims without having to face legal consequences.
“If there had been no secret settlement in the first case, maybe there wouldn’t be an additional 60 women,” suggested Leyva.
She says she plans to introduce a bill next year that would bar nondisclosure agreements in settlements arising from sexual harassment.
As reported by The Washington Post, the rule would apply to public and private employers alike.
Last year, California became the first state to ban confidential agreements in cases wherein an offense could otherwise be prosecuted as a felony sex crime – and in New York, legislators proposed voiding employment contracts that order workers not to publicize claims of harassment or discrimination.
“Whenever a woman is sexually harassed, I think she tends to blame herself,” said Leyva. “The secret settlement might look like a way out. But it doesn’t help you move on, and it doesn’t keep this person from harming other women.”
The Post spoke to Genie Harrison, an employment attorney who said that reality is often more complex than Leyva suggests.
She said confidentiality agreements can help claimants seek larger awards, which benefits those who need to take time off from work or access therapy in order to fully heal.
“I don’t like the idea of forcing it upon the plaintiff that he or she can’t have confidentiality provisions,” said Harrison, who heads the Genie Law Firm.
Some clients, says Harrison, simply don’t want anyone to find out what they’ve endured.
“I have represented women in high-profile positions, and they don’t want a word of it breathed out,” she said. “They don’t want it to affect their jobs or relationships.”
Harrison said that others might want to share their experiences, and should be able to make a choice as to which option would suit them better.
“They want to be able to scream it at the top of the hills,” said Harrison, noting that money isn’t always a motivating factor. “Those plaintiffs can decline to settle and take their case to trial.”
Another attorney who spoke to the Post said that some of his clients ultimately regret signing confidentiality agreements, precisely because the nature of such settlements keep wrongdoing from entering the public sphere.
“It makes them carry their perpetrator’s secret, and the secret of the people who protected their perpetrator,” said John Manly, founder of the Manly, Stewart & Finaldi firm in Los Angeles.
“We should not allow that.”