Guest MINDSETTER™ Sen. Sheehan: Time to End Nondisclosure Agreements

Monday, April 02, 2018

 

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Senator James Sheehan

In October 2017, The New York Times and The New Yorker reported that dozens of women accused Harvey Weinstein, renowned movie producer, of sexual abuse and misconduct over a period of at least 30 years.

This scandal sparked the #metoo movement on social media, and has led to a movement of women speaking out about harassment by prominent politicians, media executives, entertainers, and others.

Another horrific story of sexual assault involved Dr. Larry Nassar, a physician for the U.S. Gymnastics Team, who pleaded guilty to 10 counts of criminal sexual misconduct in the first degree.

These incidences are far from isolated; a 2017 poll by ABC News and The Washington Post found that 54 percent of American women report receiving “unwanted and inappropriate” sexual advances with 95 percent saying that such behavior usually goes unpunished.

How did these high profile perpetrators keep their sexual misconduct quiet for so long?  Their actions were, in part, concealed from public view through the use of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) that kept their victims silent. I find it unconscionable and unjust as a matter of public policy that perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault would be able to hide behind a veil of secrecy of nondisclosure agreements. This must end!

That’s why I’ve introduced legislation (2018-S 2687) that would render nonbinding any provision in a settlement agreement that would prohibit the disclosure of the basic facts related to a claim of sexual harassment, sexual assault and retaliation for reporting sexual harassment and stalking.

Ending Nondisclosure Agreements

Employers have used NDAs for years for legitimate purposes such as protecting trade secrets, inventions, and proprietary information. But in recent years, NDAs have been used to protect the reputation of companies in instances when sexual harassment and sexual assault have been alleged, shielding perpetrators from accountability and consequences for their actions.  Further, NDAs also silence victims and stop them from discussing abuse — even with their families — and from warning others about the alleged perpetrator, putting innocent people in harm’s way.

In the case of Dr. Larry Nasser, Olympian McKayla Maroney claimed that USA Gymnastics paid her not to speak about Nassar’s abuse publicly.  Maroney entered into a nondisclosure agreement willingly but stated that she was traumatized and not in the right frame of mind when she did so.  Maroney used a portion of her financial settlement to pay for psychological treatment to cope with Nassar’s abuse.

For & Against the Bill

Some opponents of this legislation may argue that this legislation, if enacted, would lower the amount victims would receive in settlement compensation. Depending on the nature of the allegation, this is entirely possible.  However, the damage caused by sexual misconduct is not merely about dollars and cents; it is about accountability and human dignity.  Further, with or without NDAs, there will be fair settlement offers since companies still won't want to go to trial, especially given the public’s increased awareness of and disgust with sexual harassment and sexual assault.  Most importantly, the victim’s having the option to go public with the facts of case will help put a stop to sexual predators who would surely harm others again if given the opportunity. That is a public good that you cannot put a price on.

In brief, if this bill is approved, it would help put an end to the practice of using nondisclosure agreements to cover-up abusive behavior in the workplace and society by providing victims the option to publicly identify those individuals who hurt them — individuals who could hurt others as well if they are not stopped. Sexual harassment is a blight, a tragedy and a social crisis. Victims are reluctant enough to talk about what has happened. There is no reason nondisclosure agreements should be used to add to that burden. The states of California, Pennsylvania and Washington have already approved similar legislation.  Let us make Rhode Island the next state to take this very positive step.

The author, James C. Sheehan, represents District 36 in the Rhode Island State Senate. He resides in North Kingstown.

 

Related Slideshow: Growing List of Alleged Sexual Harassers

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Politics

Members of the Rhode Island House of Representative   

State Representative Teresa Tanzi said she has been the victim of sexual harassment in the RI State House by a fellow male legislator.

Rhode Island State Police and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin are investigating the charges.

The State Police and Kilmartin Released the Following Statement

“Yesterday, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin contacted Colonel Ann C. Assumpico, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Department of Public Safety, regarding allegations of sexual harassment at the Rhode Island State House made by Representative Teresa Tanzi. The two agencies are working together to review the allegations. As is the policy of both the State Police and the Attorney General’s Office, the two agencies are not going to be making further comment with respect to the status of or direction of the inquiry.”

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Entertainment

Harvey Weinstein

Former entertainment boss and political influencer and fundraiser is now facing allegations from dozens of women. Reported by the New York Times that law enforcement in NY is poised to file rape charges against Weinstein.

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Politics

Roy Moore

GOP candidate for U.S. Senate has been accused by eight women of sexual abuse. The impact has seen Moore drop in the polls and now the seat that was a lock to stay Republican is a toss-up.

Moore and, now his wife, deny the claims and say they are politically motivated.

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Media

Michael Oreskes

The National Public Radio senior news editor was forced to resign, "Our top editor, NPR Senior Vice President of News Mike Oreskes, has resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. Three women have filed complaints, one a current NPR reporter, the other two alleging harassment from two decades ago when Oreskes was at The New York Times."

But now, Oreskes may just be the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Now, the controversy has expanded. On Thursday, NPR reported, "As NPR's Board of Directors meet in Washington, D.C., this week, the network finds itself confronted by a series of dispiriting developments: a CEO on medical leave; a chief news executive forced out over sexual harassment allegations; the sudden resignation of a board chairman; fresh complaints about inappropriate behavior by colleagues; and a network roiled by tensions over the treatment of its female workers."

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Politics

Donald Trump

"Meanwhile, some of the women who accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment or assault during the presidential campaign wonder when the president might finally pay a price for what he allegedly did to them.

'Things just seem to fall off of Trump, I’m extremely disappointed,' says Jessica Leeds, 75, who alleges Trump tried to kiss her, fondle her breasts and put his hand up her skirt while on a flight to New York in the early 1980s," reports People magazine.

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Entertainment

Andy Dick

"Clearly Andy Dick’s behavior is reprehensible. We used him twice on our show two years ago when he was sober for an extended period in order to encourage him to change his life. Sadly he has not. We no longer use him on our show,” Judd Apatow tweeted Tuesday after social media users criticized him for not speaking out against Dick," reported the Chicago Tribune."

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Entertainment

Andy Signore

"Andy Signore, creator of Screen Junkies and the “Honest Trailers” series, has been fired effective immediately, Defy Media announced Sunday evening. Signore has been accused by several women of sexual harassment, and at least one said he tried to sexually assault her," reports Variety magazine.

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Entertainment

Oliver Stone

"While Oliver Stone defended Harvey Weinstein amid more than a dozen allegations of sexual harassment and assault, a former Playboy Playmate accused the “Platoon” director of sexual assault.

Carrie Stevens, who was best known as Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in June 1997 but also had several small movie and TV roles, claimed Thursday that Stone had grabbed her breast at a party," reports the NY Daily News.

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Politics & Entertainment

Al Franken

Former SNL star and progressive United States Senator, he has admitted (after the photo was released) or sexual harassment. Now, some Democratic colleagues are calling for an Ethics Committee investigation.

Others are calling for Franken to resign. 

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Entertainment

Chris Savino

“The Loud House showrunner Chris Savino has been fired from Nickelodeon, amidst allegations of sexual harassment.

Savino had first been suspended by the network when allegations first surfaced. A dozen women have accused Savino of inappropriate behavior, in a story first reported by the website Cartoon Brew. Their accusations — which date back several years — include unwanted sexual advances as well as threats of retribution after the end of consensual relationships," reports Variety.

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Media

Mark Halperin

No journalist was hotter than Mark Halperin. But, now he has been accused of harassing a dozen women while at ABC News.

His Book contract terminated. And he has been fired from his slot on "Morning Joe." He has apologized for some of the instances and denied others.

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Hollywood

Kevin Spacey

The actor that helped to create Netflix is now being unveiled by a range of accusers of being a serial abuser.

Multiple your men and boys have alleged Spacey sexuallty abused them. Netflix has dropped him from “House of Cards.”

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Entertainment

David Guillod

"Three more women have come forward to say Hollywood manager and “Atomic Blonde” producer David Guillod raped them, including an assistant at his former management company who said he took her from her bed at a 2014 company retreat and raped her.

The other two women said he drugged and raped them at his home in 2015 — and that they woke up covered in blood.

Guillod denies all of the accusations. The new accusers, who do not wish to be identified, join “Ted” actress Jessica Barth, whose public accusation that Guillod drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2012 sparked his recent resignation from Primary Wave Entertainment, his management company," reports AOL.

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Entertainment

Louis C.K.

"Accused by five women of sexual misconduct. The planned release of his film "I Love You, Daddy" halted. Netflix special has been canceled. He says the allegations are true and has apologized," according to ABC News.

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Entertainment

Jeffrey Tambor

"...Amazon has launched an investigation into Tambor’s behavior in response to a leaked Facebook post from his former assistant Van Barnes which was circulating within Hollywood’s transgender community. In the post, Barnes, who is transgender herself, wrote about the sexual harassment she had endured at the hands of a former boss who had repeatedly groped and propositioned her, suggesting that sleeping with him would earn her an industry-appropriate pay grade. She accused her employer of making lewd comments, playing pornography at loud volumes, and threatening to sue her if she spoke up. Transparent’s writers have since been contemplating whether the fifth season can go on without its star," reported Slate.

Two additional transgender women came forward this week with new allegations against Tambor late this week.

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Entertainment

Steven Seagal

Action actor has been accused by a number of accusers: including de Rossi, Inside Edition correspondent Lisa Guerrero, The Good Wife actress Julianna Margulies, and Jenny McCarthy.

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Entertainment

Sly Stallone

The actor who created the Rocky character is accused of sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl. The woman alleges that the event took place in 1986 -- Stallone was 40 years old at the time.

The Daily Mail, who broke the story reports, "That retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department detective sergeant John Samolovitch vouched that 'the copy of the police report is, in fact, a true copy of the original report.' The force is yet to comment."

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Entertainment

James Toback

ABC reports, "Writer-director James Toback — Accused by hundreds of women of sexual harassment. Beverly Hills police investigating complaints. He has denied the allegations to the Los Angeles Times."

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Entertainment

Ben Affleck

According to Rolling Stone, "Stephen Colbert asked Ben Affleck about his past sexual misconduct – last month, the actor apologized for groping Hilarie Burton on camera in 2003 – and his reaction to the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations on The Late Show on Thursday. Good Will Hunting, the film that launched Affleck to stardom, was released by Miramax, a company co-founded by Weinstein. 

"What I was accused of by a woman was touching her breast while I gave her a hug," Affleck told Colbert. "I don't remember it, but I absolutely apologize for it. I certainly don't think she's lying or making it up.'"

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Politics

George H.W. Bush

Business Insider reports, "After actress Heather Lind accused former President George H. W. Bush of sexual harassment, five other women have since come forward with their own experiences with Bush, all of which involving him groping their buttocks during photo shoots."

 
 

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