Senate Bans Nondisclosures; Critics Say They Silence Victims Of Sexual Misconduct

The gold dome of the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The gold dome of the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously Thursday to adopt a rule prohibiting non-disclosure clauses from being included in employment contracts or enforced against senators and staff members.

Critics of non-disclosure, or so-called "non-disparagement" agreements, argue they can be used as a tool by powerful men to silence victims of sexual harassment and shield abusers.

The Senate already had an existing policy against executing non-disclosures but the unanimous vote on an amendment proposed by state Sen. Diana DiZoglio cements it as rule of the chamber, and one that cannot be suspended for any reason in the future.

The Senate action during its biennial rules debate contrasted with Wednesday's 151-5 vote in the House against adding to that chamber's rules a similar ban on non-disclosures. Opponents of a total prohibition cited a policy adopted by the House last year that they said limited the agreements to those that were requested by victims of alleged misbehavior.

Both the House and Senate have moved to strengthen sexual harassment policies in the wake of the national #MeToo movement, which has included misconduct allegations that have roiled state legislatures in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

The non-disclosure ban "sends a clear message to our community that we will not, nor will we in the future be in the business or silencing victims or covering up misdeeds under any circumstances using public funds," said DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat beginning her first term in the Senate.

She first emerged as a fierce critic of non-disclosures last year while serving in the House, revealing that she had been pressured to sign a non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreement as a young legislative aide in 2011. DiZoglio said she was forced to leave her job at that time after false rumors spread that she and a state representative had engaged in inappropriate behavior, and was told by House Speaker Robert DeLeo's office that she would not receive a six-week severance package unless she signed the agreement.

The ban was greeted with bipartisan support in the Senate.

"These kinds of agreements have no place in the Legislature," said Republican leader Bruce Tarr, of Gloucester, after Thursday's vote.

The Senate rules also specify that there can be no retaliation allowed against anyone who reports misconduct or cooperates with an ongoing investigation.



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