Sen. James C. Sheehan (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) has introduced two bills that would limit non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment.
The first bill (2020-S 2558) would place limits on the terms that can be included in an agreement that settles a claim of sexual harassment, retaliation for reporting sexual harassment and stalking. It expressly grants the complainant the right to disclose factual information relating to his or her claim five years after the execution of the nondisclosure settlement agreement. If the complainant discloses his or her factual information, the respondent may no longer be bound by the nondisclosure agreement.
“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.”
The second bill (2020-S 2563) would define “nondisclosure agreement” and identify mandatory and permissible nondisclosure agreement language.
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 rape or abuse.
“With a limitation on nondisclosure agreements, 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.”