DiZoglio continues push to ban non-disclosure agreements

Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, a primary sponsor of a ban on nondisclosure agreements, said Massachusetts is falling behind other states in protecting workers from being forced to enter into non-disclosure agreements as a condition of employment.

BOSTON — Nondisclosure agreements are commonly used by large companies to protect trade secrets, resolve arbitration cases and settle workplace conflicts.

But NDAs are increasingly shielding powerful men from accusations of abuse or rape, say victims rights advocates and others who are pushing to restrict the practice.

Several proposals on Beacon Hill would ban such agreements if they involve claims of discrimination, harassment or retaliation in the public and private sectors.

Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, a primary sponsor of the legislation, said Massachusetts is falling behind other states in protecting workers from being forced to enter into non-disclosure agreements as a condition of employment.

“This is a matter of public safety,” she said. “We need to make policy changes, not only to help those who have already been silenced, but also to protect potential future victims from abusers who could be hiding in plain sight.”

The proposal, which was heard by the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, also would ban forced arbitration clauses — under which workers waive their rights to sue in court over issues such as discrimination, and instead agree to private, confidential proceedings. Such clauses favor abusive employers, DiZoglio argues, because they’re allowed to censor and threaten workers with impunity.

Accusers would still be allowed to take steps to shield their identities from disclosure, under her proposal.

A similar proposal was approved by the Senate last year but wasn’t taken up by the House of Representatives.

Disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and Fox News star anchor Bill O’Reilly are among those who’ve been accused of hiding allegations of sexual harassment for years with out-of-court settlements and nondisclosure agreements that forbid the parties from talking about the cases.

“These perpetrators were able to move undetected from one victim to the next by using NDAs to cover up their misdeeds and seek out new targets,” DiZoglio said.

A firestorm surrounding the public accusations of sexual harassment against Weinstein and other men, fueled by the #MeToo movement, focused public attention on the ability of wealthy and powerful people to avoid scrutiny for decades despite repeated allegations.

Still, legal experts say a total ban on non-disclosure and arbitration clauses raises constitutional issues.

Pro-business groups such as the Associated Industries of Massachusetts argue that arbitration and other non-judicial remedies are crucial to resolving workplace conflicts. Banning the practice would clog the courts with employment law cases, the group asserts.

To date, at least least six states — California, Maryland, New Jersey, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington — have banned the use of nondisclosure agreements in settlements involving claims of sexual assault, harassment or discrimination.

In 2017, California enacted a law that prohibits confidentiality clauses in civil lawsuits involving felony sexual assault or child sexual abuse.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com

Trending Video

Recommended for you