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On Beacon Hill, the House of Representatives has adopted new rules dealing with sexual harassment and how employees can safely report it.
Robert DeLeo, speaker of the House, has insisted leadership takes any allegations of sexual harassment in the House seriously.
But on Thursday legislators unexpectedly heard an impassioned speech from a state representative who said she was silenced when she reported sexual harassment when she was a legislative aide in 2011.
State Rep. Diana DiZoglio of Methuen said she faced harassment seven years ago as a legislative aide. She was fired and a severance agreement she signed has prohibited her from talking about the allegations. In her speech, she said she decided to break her non-disclosure agreement to bring attention to the issue.
"I don't break this NDA to attack or accuse anyone, I'm not asking for more money or threatening a lawsuit. And I will even give the severance money back if I am asked. I just want this awful practice to stop," she said.
DeLeo confirms DiZoglio is one of 33 former House employees who have signed non-disclosure agreements to receive severance packages, but says that none of these agreements were to settle sexual harassment complaints.
DiZoglio's firing occurred in 2011, when she was a legislative aide to former Republican Rep. Paul Adams. She attended an evening post-budget party in the speaker's office, which has a door that leads directly into the House chamber.
She said she and a state representative, Mark Cusack, were caught in the chamber, alone, by a court officer. Both she and the state representative in question said nothing inappropriate happened, and an investigation confirmed that.
But after, rumors flew about what really happened, calling her reputation into question. Adams told her not to say anything.
"I did what I was told, kept my head down, did my work, kept quiet, and listened. And in my silence there were jokes, and in my silence there were assumptions, false assumptions, and in my silence, more and more false rumors occurred," said DiZoglio.
Eventually, Adams fired her. She said before she could get six weeks severance pay, she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, stating she would not talk about the circumstances of her termination. A year or so later, she ran for, and won, her own seat in the House.
DiZoglio came forward while the House was taking up an order to address sexual and workplace harassment. She proposed an amendment to prohibit the use of NDAs in all workplace complaints, which she said silence people.
Her amendment was soundly defeated, but the House unanimously adopted a consolidated amendment that limits the use of the agreements in cases of sexual harassment, but does not apply in other cases.
In response to DiZoglio's speech, DeLeo's office released a written statement where he says he believes she experienced harassment after the incident in 2011, but that this week was the first time he or his staff heard of the harassment.
He also said he disagrees that NDAs are used by the House to cover up wrongdoing, saying the claim is based on "irresponsible speculation."
Other Democrats were skeptical of DeLeo's explanation.
Rep. Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park, dean of the House, was skeptical that DeLeo wasn't aware of DiZoglio's claims. He questioned the use of NDAs and wondered how much money was paid out over the years to settle workplace complaints in the House.
But other representatives defended the continued use of NDAs. "We cannot through, a crystal ball or any other way, presume to know what's in the best interest of aggrieved parties moving forward," Rep. Sarah Peake of Provincetown said.
The overarching package of rules changes was adopted by a 151-0.
The House's chief lawyer, James Kennedy, was charged with making recommendations "to instill a culture of accountability focused on ensuring a professional and safe working environment for all members, officers, employees and guests of the House."
Kennedy's proposal for new House rules establishes a new structure for reporting, investigating and adjudicating complaints. The review Kennedy conducted alongside outside lawyers, including former Attorney General Martha Coakley, recommended the hiring of a new "equal employment opportunity officer," to whom all harassment complaints would be referred for investigation, as well as moving the human resources office out of the State House's isolated sub-basement.
The House also Thursday adopted an order recommended by Kennedy to begin the process of conducting a multi-year, confidential survey of the workplace climate within the House of Representatives.
The survey is intended to "gather information on the nature and prevalence of sexual harassment or otherwise inappropriate conduct in the workplace, to estimate the degree of knowledge persons have regarding the House policy prohibiting harassment, to identify the options for, and barriers to, reporting such conduct" among other priorities.
Men make up a majority of House lawmakers. Women currently hold 39 seats in the House, representing about a quarter of the 160-member body. About 55 percent of the House's 480 non-elected employees are women, and about 56 percent are under the age of 35, according to Kennedy's review.
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.
This segment aired on March 16, 2018.
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