Senate Judiciary Committee hears Sheehan bill on sexual harassment non-disclosure agreements
STATE HOUSE — The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday heard testimony on legislation introduced by Sen. James C. Sheehan (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) that would limit the terms that can be included in an agreement that settles a claim of sexual harassment.
The bill (2019-S 0456) would permit sexual harassment victims the opportunity to make public, if they choose, the identity and nature of a charge after a five-year period.
“If this bill is approved, it would help put an end to the practice of using nondisclosure agreements to forever cover-up abusive behavior in the workplace and society by providing victims the option to publicly identify those individuals who abuse or harass others,” said Senator Sheehan. “Putting a five-year limit on NDAs involving sexual misconduct provides victims a window for truth and accountability that will help put a stop repeat offenders.”
A non-disclosure agreement is a confidentiality contract that prohibits the disclosure of factual information related to a claim by a party to the agreement. Such agreements were initially used by high-tech firms to protect trade secrets, but victims’ rights advocates say that they are increasingly being used to shield those in power from allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
“Without nondisclosure agreements, which are essentially a lifetime gag agreement, countless victims will be free to come forward to identify sexual misconduct after a five-year period, making it harder for abusers to dodge accountability and consequences for their actions,” said Senator Sheehan. “I find it unconscionable and unjust as a matter of public policy to permit perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault to perpetually hide behind a veil of secrecy of nondisclosure agreements.”
The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Elizabeth A. Crowley (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket), James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton), Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick), and Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence).
For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903