June 9, 2021 - SACRAMENTO – On Tuesday, legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) to empower survivors of workplace harassment or discrimination passed from the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
Sponsored jointly by the California Employment Lawyers Association, Earthseed and Equal Rights Advocates, SB 331 would expand current protections against secret settlements to now cover settlement agreements involving all forms of harassment or discrimination. Known also as the “Silenced No More Act”, this measure would additionally 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.
“SB 331 will ensure that workers are always able to speak out against harassment or discrimination in the workplace—both to demand accountability and to prevent future abuses by perpetrators,” Senator Leyva said. “California workers should never be forced into agreements that protect perpetrators and only serve to hurt and disempower survivors. If and when it is signed into law, the ‘Silenced No More Act’ will empower workers and help to stop this unacceptable behavior in workplaces across the state.”
In response to the #MeToo movement which revealed the considerable role that secret settlements played in shielding perpetrators of sexually inappropriate behavior and even sex-related crimes, Senator Leyva authored and the Governor signed SB 820 (2018)—also known as the STAND (Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures) Act. This historic law now specifically bans non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sex discrimination, unless requested by the worker, as it was clear that secret settlements were helping to preserve 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, age, disability, religion, etc. as they do related to sexual harassment or sex discrimination, the “Silenced No More Act” seeks to ensure that those who raise these complaints about inappropriate—and even unlawful—behavior in the workplace are able to speak openly about their experiences.
In 2018, California also passed another #MeToo bill (SB 1300, Jackson) that made a number of crucial changes to California’s harassment and discrimination laws. Though confidentiality and non-disparagement agreements that prevent workers from disclosing information about unlawful acts in the workplace are now banned as a condition of employment due to SB 1300, many employers still force workers to sign these types of provisions as part of severance packages when a worker leaves a job.
Emphasizing the need for SB 331, two Black women recently raised gender and race discrimination claims against a company where “they were underpaid, faced racist comments from their manager and were subject to retaliation.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/07/03/pinterest-race-bias-black-employees/) 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, though only for their gender-based claims. In other words, though they can speak about their experience involving gender discrimination, they 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.
Now advancing to the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee for consideration, SB 331 is also supported by AFSCME / AFL-CIO, AI Now Institute, Anti-Defamation League, Bayla Ventures, Brandworkers, California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, California Conference Board of the Amalgamated Transit Union, California Conference of Machinists, California Immigrant Policy Center, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, California State Council of Service Employees International Union / California, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, California Women's Law Center, Center for Institutional Courage, Consumer Attorneys of California, Disability Rights California, Engineers and Scientists of California / IFPTE Local 20 / AFL-CIO, Indivisible CA StateStrong, Legal Aid at Work, Lift Our Voices, Media Democracy Fund, National Association of Social Workers / California Chapter, National Council of Jewish Women-California, National Employment Law Project, National Women's Political Caucus of California, People's Parity Project, Professional and Technical Engineers / IFPTE Local 21, Radical Candor LLC, Santa Barbara Women's Political Committee, Techequity Collaborative, The Citizens - Real Facebook Oversight Board, The Force the Issue Project, The Signals Network, The Women's Foundation of California, Unite Here International Union / AFL-CIO, Utility Workers Union of America, Vaya Consulting LLC, Voices for Progress Education Fund, Western Center on Law & Poverty INC., Whistleblowing International Network and Work Equity Action Fund.
Source: Senator Connie M. Leyva