ERA Co-Sponsors “Silenced No More” Act to end silencing of workers subject to racism

February 8. 2021

For Immediate Release
Feb 8, 2021

Media Contact
Jess Eagle
[email protected]

Update: Thanks to months of advocacy by ERA supporters and our bill co-sponsors, The Silenced No More Act was signed into law by CA Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2021.

SB 331 Empowers Victims, Ends the Legal Use of NDAs as Gag Orders against Victims of Workplace Discrimination & Harassment

SACRAMENTO – Building on previous legislative wins empowering survivors of workplace harassment and discrimination, Equal Rights Advocates is co-sponsoring a new bill introduced today by California Senator Connie M. Leyva, which would expand current protections against secret settlements to now include settlement agreements involving all forms of discrimination and harassment. Senate Bill 331 would also expand the prohibition on overly broad confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses in employment agreements to cover workers who are required to sign these types of clauses as part of a severance agreement.

In 2018—in response to the #MeToo movement which revealed the key role that secret settlements played in shielding perpetrators of sexually inappropriate behavior and workplace sexual assault —the California legislature passed SB 820 (Leyva), the STAND (Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures) Act. The law specifically bans non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sex discrimination, as it was clear that secret settlements were helping to perpetuate hostile work environments by allowing complaints to be hidden from public view.

As secret settlements clearly play as much a role in perpetuating workplace discrimination, harassment and bias based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, religion, etc. as they do sexual harassment or sex discrimination, The “Silenced No More” Act seeks to ensure that those who raise these complaints about wrong—and even illegal—behavior in the workplace are able to speak openly about their experiences. The bill is also co-sponsored by California Employment Lawyers Association.

We are proud to cosponsor SB 331, which will prohibit forced NDAs related to all forms of discrimination—including overdue race discrimination protections—to ensure that workers are not silenced and discrimination is not swept under the rug. — ERA Senior Counsel Jessica Stender

“NDAs are inherently harmful because they prevent workers from speaking out against abuses in the workplace,” said Jessica Stender, Senior Counsel for Workplace Justice & Public Policy at Equal Rights Advocates. “We are proud to cosponsor SB 331, which will prohibit forced NDAs related to all forms of discrimination—including overdue race discrimination protections—to ensure that workers are not silenced and discrimination is not swept under the rug.”

Highlighting the need for SB 331, two Black women recently raised gender and race discrimination claims against a large tech company where “they were underpaid, faced racist comments from their manager and were subject to retaliation.”  While the company initially dismissed their claims, the women’s stories generated tremendous media interest and inspired other women to speak openly about their own experiences. The women eventually settled their claims and were protected by the STAND Act, but only for their gender-based claims. In other words, though they could speak about their experience involving gender discrimination, they still cannot speak about their experience involving race discrimination. As harassment or discrimination claims are oftentimes intersectional (e.g., based on gender and race or age and sexual orientation), SB 331 will resolve a situation where the NDA covers only one aspect of the workers’ experience and claim.

“My experience facing workplace discrimination, then publicly demanding accountability, speaks to the importance of this legislation for all Californians. I’m proud to support this bill and the intersectional protections it would bring to tens of millions of workers,” said former Pinterest employee Ifeoma Ozoma.

“It is unacceptable for any employer to try to silence a worker because he or she was a victim of any type of harassment or discrimination—whether due to race, sexual orientation, religion, age or any other characteristic,” said bill author Senator Leyva said. “SB 331 will empower survivors to speak out—if they so wish—so they can hold perpetrators accountable and hopefully prevent abusers from continuing to torment and abuse other workers.”

Jointly sponsored by the California Employment Lawyers Association and Equal Rights Advocates, the “Silenced No More Act” removes oppressive silencing mechanisms that further harm employees, prevent accountability and allow harassment and discrimination to continue unchecked.

“Combatting systemic racism and other forms of discrimination and harassment in the workplace cannot succeed unless workers’ voices are heard.  Yet employers have increasingly been allowed to use silencing agreements to strip workers of their right to speak out about their experience in the workplace,” noted Mariko Yoshihara, Legislative Counsel and Policy Director at California Employment Lawyers Association.  “This bill is critically important to ensure that workers never have to sign away their ability to speak out about harassment or discrimination as a condition of their employment or to settle a claim.”

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