109 Republicans voted against bill to ban sexual assault NDAs

The newly passed Speak Out Act "empowers survivors of sexual assault and harassment to speak openly about their experiences and pursue the justice they deserve," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

The House on Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation that prohibits employers from using pre-dispute non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or non-disparagement clauses to silence survivors of workplace sexual assault and harassment.

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the Speak Out Act, which had already been approved in the Senate by unanimous consent, as soon as it reaches his desk.

But 109 Republicans voted against protecting the rights of employees to share their stories and pursue justice without fear of retribution for violating NDAs signed prior to instances of sexual misconduct.

“We live in a society that makes it incredibly difficult for survivors of sexual assault and harassment to get justice,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) wrote Wednesday on social media.

“This bill empowers survivors of sexual assault and harassment to speak openly about their experiences and pursue the justice they deserve,” she added. “I was proud to be a co-lead on this bill and I’m so glad we got it done.”

As The New Republic noted: “Thwarting the use of NDAs is important, as they have been weaponized to bind victims from speaking out against abusive employers or workplace superiors. That prevents victims from stopping potential future harm to be inflicted upon colleagues. Gretchen Carlson and Julie Rognisky, former Fox News employees and advocates for the bill, are familiar with this dynamic. Both bound by NDAs, the pair filed lawsuits against late Fox executive Roger Ailes, alleging sexual assault.

“The goal of the silencing mechanisms is to isolate you, to make you feel like you’re the only one that this is happening to, to protect predators by ensuring that nobody will know,” Roginsky told The 19th. “What survivors go through is something that has driven countless women out of the workforce because they have to choose between staying in an untenable situation silently or leaving their chosen careers.”

According to The 19th: “One in three women report having faced sexual harassment in the workplace, and often they can’t talk about it: More than one-third of the U.S. workforce is bound by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that can silence victims of abuse and shield employers from accountability. But now, five years after the #MeToo movement took off, Congress is limiting an employer’s ability to keep its employees quiet.

In addition to banning the use of NDAs between employers and current, former, and prospective workers in cases of sexual assault and harassment, the Speak Out Act also invalidates existing NDAs in cases not already filed.

“This is a great step forward, especially for women in this country,” said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), who co-introduced the bill in June with Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.). “The goal of this legislation is really to change the culture in the workplace right now.”

Research shows that state-level laws similar to the Speak Out Act led workers to disclose information about sexual misconduct and other negative elements of their jobs more freely.

In March, Biden signed a related bill that bars companies from “resolving” claims of sexual assault and harassment through forced arbitration. As The New Republic observed, “Such resolution processes allowed superiors to discreetly deal with cases away from public scrutiny, enabling them to get away with abusing employees at will.”

In the words of Frankel, “This is a one-two punch.”

“When you think about how many people are subjected to these agreements and how rampant sexual assault and abuse is in this country,” she said, “these are two incredibly significant new laws that are going to change the culture and force corporations to protect their workers instead of trying to hide the dirty little secrets.”

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Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @kenny_stancil.

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