Today, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the Speak Out Act, a bipartisan, bicameral bill that would prohibit predispute non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in instances in which sexual harassment or sexual assault has been alleged in violation of federal, tribal, or state law and in situations in which survivors wish to break their silence. Under current law, organizations can use NDAs to prevent survivors of sexual harassment or assault from speaking publicly about these incidents. 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 denied justice.
The Speak Out Act would:
- Prohibit the use of predispute NDAs between employers and current, former, and prospective employees, as well as independent contractors;
- Prohibit the use of predispute NDAs between providers of goods and services and consumers, and;
- Invalidate existing predispute NDAs in cases that have not yet been filed.
“The bipartisan Speak Out Act would prohibit the use of predispute NDAs in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases in situations in which survivors wish to break their silence. I’m committed to fixing this broken system that uses secrecy to protect predators and silence survivors,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Earlier this year, we voided forced arbitration agreements for sexual assault and sexual harassment, and the Speak Out Act represents the next step in our mission to reform our workplaces for the better. I am proud to work with my colleagues to help end the days of institutional protection for perpetrators.”
“Women who are victims of sexual assault or abuse in the workplace have raised the issue of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) being used to coerce silence. Unfortunately, there are some corporate entities that have used NDAs inappropriately. Our legislation will implement guidelines to provide employees who step forward with the due process they deserve,” said Senator Blackburn.
“For too long, non-disclosure agreements have been abused to silence survivors of sexual assault and harassment and protect those who perpetrate these crimes,” said Senator Hirono. “The use of NDAs to stop survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment from telling their stories should be limited. This legislation works to do just that, and builds on the progress made by the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act signed into law earlier this year. This bill will help survivors come forward so that those responsible can be held accountable. I am glad to join my colleagues in leading this bipartisan, bicameral legislation that aims to finally end this harmful, toxic system.”
“This legislation will advance the cause of sexual assault and sexual harassment victims who have been silenced through NDAs in the past,” said Senator Graham. “The more we know, the more we deter.”
“We have made progress in our efforts to make workplaces safer and more equitable. But until we eradicate all legal obstacles that prevent workers’ voices from being heard, employees remain vulnerable to inappropriate behavior and toxic work environments. This legislation would be a major step forward and we thank the co-sponsors of this legislation for their leadership,” said Gretchen Carlson, co-founder, Lift Our Voices.
“Too many workers have been driven from their jobs and their chosen careers because a culture of silence prevents them from holding predators and their enablers accountable. For too long, survivors and witnesses of abusive behavior have been threatened with legal repercussions if they tell anyone about what they know. This legislation will go a long way in ensuring that the American workplace is more inclusive and respectful by allowing survivors and witnesses of sexual harassment and assault the opportunity to speak about their experiences,” said Julie Roginsky, co-founder, Lift Our Voices.
The House companion bill was introduced on June 24, 2022 by Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Ken Buck (R-CO). The bill is set to be marked up by the House Judiciary Committee on July 13, 2022.