ERA-Sponsored CA Bill to Prevent Weaponized Defamation Lawsuits Against Survivors Introduced, Passes First Committee Vote
March 24. 2023
For Immediate Release
Mar 24, 2023
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Assemblymembers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) and Chris Ward (D-San Diego) announced today that their Assembly Bill 933 passed the Assembly Committee on Judiciary with an 8–0 vote. The bill will protect survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination from weaponized defamation lawsuits. Specifically, AB 933 will strengthen the legal protection of survivors who may face retaliatory defamation lawsuits from speaking publicly about their personal experiences.
Sponsored by Equal Rights Advocates and our partner organization CA Employment Lawyers Association, the bill is part of our 2023 Stronger California Agenda.
“The Assembly Judiciary Committee is sending a clear message that our justice system cannot be used as a weapon to further harm and silence survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination who speak out,” said Jessica Ramey Stender, Policy Director & Deputy Legal Director of Equal Rights Advocates.
“Survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination are our family, our neighbors, our friends, and our colleagues” said Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), Vice Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus. “We have to empower anyone who would expose those who’ve done them harm, because their courageous act will protect others.”
“Far too often, perpetrators of sexual misconduct, abuse, assault and harassment use the court system to punish survivors for speaking out about their abuse. This further victimizes those who bravely choose to come forward,” said Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego). “This bill will protect them from being silenced and lift up the voices of survivors, so they can freely share their experiences without fear of retaliation.”
The #MeToo movement gave many assault and harassment survivors the opportunity to bravely join countless others in sharing their stories on a national platform, in solidarity. At the same time, it unveiled a toxic and predatory culture that persists across all sectors of employment and society. While survivors courageously came forward, many were served with defamation lawsuits by those who abused them. In fact, defamation lawsuits have become the weapon of choice by perpetrators to intimidate, punish, and silence their accusers.
Existing law makes certain publications and speech — including complaints of sexual harassment — privileged and protected from civil defamation actions. However, these protections are limited. AB 933 would expand protections for speech made by a survivor, without malice, about their own experience of sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination. This bill would make it harder for perpetrators to retaliate against survivors with legal threats and intimidation, but does not apply to unfounded claims. The bill also helps take the burden off of survivors by providing reasonable attorneys’ fees and damages if they successfully defend themselves against meritless defamation lawsuits.
AB 933 now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Stay tuned for our AB 933 Action Campaign, where you will be able to send a pre-drafted email lawmakers supporting this bill!
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