TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg today introduced legislation to ban nondisclosure agreements that seek to silence victims and conceal the details of sexual harassment, abuse or other misconduct in the workplace.
The senator’s proposal comes after media reports that film executive Harvey Weinstein reached at least eight settlement agreements with women over nearly three decades, and after reports of settlements paid in relation to claims against former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and former chairman Roger Ailes.
“The recent cases involving Harvey Weinstein and other high-profile figures have shined a much-needed light on the issue of sexual harassment and assault, and on the need to address the system that allows offenders to keep these cases quiet,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Banning nondisclosure agreements related to sexual harassment and other misconduct is critical. The intent is to prevent perpetrators from using these agreements to silence victims and to cover up offenses that often they end up committing again.”
Under the bill, a provision in any employment contract that waives any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment would be deemed against public policy and unenforceable. In addition, a provision in any employment contract or agreement which has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment, including claims that are submitted to arbitration, would be deemed against public policy and unenforceable.
The bill also provides that no person shall take any retaliatory action, including but not limited to failure to hire, discharge, suspension, demotion, discrimination in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, or other adverse action, against a person, on grounds that the person does not enter into an agreement or contract that contains a provision deemed against public policy and unenforceable pursuant to the bill.
Any person claiming to be aggrieved by a violation of the bill may initiate suit in Superior Court. An action would be required to be commenced within two years next after the cause of any such action shall have accrued. All remedies available in common law tort actions would be available to prevailing plaintiffs, in addition to the remedies provided by the bill. A prevailing plaintiff would be awarded reasonable attorney fees and costs.
“We are now seeing more widespread recognition of harassment and other forms of abuse taking place in workplace,” said Senator Weinberg. “I believe we are beginning to experience a culture shift, but we must also change the legal landscape to ensure that harassment and other unacceptable conduct is not kept secret by contractual agreements that allow perpetrators to continue their abusive behavior.”