New Jersey lawmakers are moving ahead on a bill that would prohibit defendants in certain discrimination and sexual harassment claims from requiring that plaintiffs agree to sign nondisclosure agreements in out-of-court settlements.
The bill, S121, sponsored by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, was introduced in response to revelations that President Donald Trump, film mogul Harvey Weinstein, USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar and comedian Bill Cosby settled sexual harassment lawsuits and demanded that the plaintiffs sign nondisclosure agreements.
The bill passed the state Senate in a 34-1 vote June 7. An identical bill, A1242, is pending before the Assembly Labor Committee.
“Nondisclosure agreements have been used to silence and intimidate the victims of sexual assault and harassment,” said Weinberg in a statement. “Too many victims have been forced to suffer in silence for far too long while the abusers went unpunished as they preyed on more women. Limiting these so-called ‘confidentiality agreements’ will help lift the secrecy that allowed the abuses to continue.”
“Employees and employers may still want to enter into nondisclosure agreements, but those agreements cannot be created to silence employees who have been victims of harassment, discrimination or sexual assault,” said a co-sponsor, Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, in the statement.
The bill, which would go into effect immediately if enacted, would prohibit provisions in employment contracts that would require the waiver of the rights of victims and make employment contracts that require employees to conceal details relating to these types of claims unenforceable against employees.
“These secret settlements can ultimately endanger the public by hiding sexual predators from law enforcement and the public,” Weinberg said. “They are being used by those who have the money to pay.”
The NDAs are features of settlements through which the aggrieved party agrees not to pursue litigation or discuss terms of the deal in exchange for a sum of money. If the NDA is violated, the other party may sue for injunctive relief, which would stop the release of information, and recover damages.
The bill also would allow plaintiffs, if they are subject to NDAs, to sue in state court for counsel fees, subject to a two-year statute of limitations.
The issue of NDAs came to the forefront with Trump, whose legal team required porn star Stormy Daniels, with whom he reportedly had an affair while married, to sign such an agreement before being given a $130,000 settlement.
Weinstein, who is facing a possible life prison sentence for sexual assault, also required plaintiffs in his cases to sign NDAs.
In March, his former company, Miramax, invalidated those NDAs.
“No one should be afraid to speak out or coerced into staying quiet,” said the company, which has since filed for bankruptcy.
Nassar, who currently is serving a prison sentence of up to 175 years, and Cosby, who was found guilty in April in Pennsylvania of aggravated sexual indecent assault, also required plaintiffs in civil cases against them to sign NDAs.