Governor Signs Leyva Bill Banning Secret Settlements in Sexual Assault and Harassment Cases

Leyva: SB 820 Lifts ‘Curtain of Secrecy’ That Has Protected Perpetrators for Decades

Sunday, September 30, 2018

SACRAMENTO – After earning bipartisan support in the Senate and Assembly, Governor Jerry Brown today signed Senate Bill 820 authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that will ban the use of secret settlements related to specified sexual misconduct, including sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Co-sponsored by the Consumer Attorneys of California and the California Women’s Law Center, SB 820—also known as the STAND (Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures) Act—will specifically ban secret settlements (non-disclosure agreements) in cases of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sex discrimination.  Taking effect on January 1, 2019, the measure will apply to both private and public employers in California, including the California State Legislature.

“For decades, secret settlements have been used by wealthy and well-connected perpetrators to offend repeatedly with no public accountability,” Senator Leyva said.  “SB 820 will finally lift the curtain of secrecy that has continued to protect these perpetrators by forcing their victims to remain silent. This critical legislation will empower victims and offer them the opportunity to finally say #TimesUp to those that have hurt them. It is long overdue that we shine a bright light on this deplorable behavior and deter offenders from thinking that they can get away with harassing, assaulting, or discriminating against someone simply by writing another check and forcing the victims to stay silent. As the #MeToo movement continues to shift the culture and thinking around sexual harassment and assault, SB 820 will be a critical part of that much needed change in workplaces and communities in California.  I appreciate Governor Brown standing with women and helping to empower those whose voices have been silenced for far too long.”

For many years, non-disclosure agreements have been used to silence victims of sexual harassment and similar offenses.  Film producer Harvey Weinstein has been accused by at least 80 women of sexual misconduct, including rape, sexual assault, and harassment. For decades, his predatory behavior was reportedly kept secret in part due to the secret settlements or nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) crafted to protect him. The settlements commonly included severe penalties for breach of confidentiality or disclosure.  Many other victims of sexual harassment and assault in workplaces as diverse as hospitality, agriculture, janitorial work, and even education have also been successfully silenced through the same legal maneuvering.  Since the start of the #MeToo movement, other troubling instances of secret settlements enabling ongoing sexual harassment and assault have further confirmed the need for this legislation.  SB 820 grants claimants—not perpetrators—the option to keep their name hidden if they so choose.

Since its introduction in January 2018, SB 820 has earned the support of the Attorney General Xavier Becerra, American Association of University Women, California Employment Lawyers Association, Congress of California Seniors, Crime Victims United of California, Equal Rights Advocates and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO.

“Today, California took a step in the right direction to restrict the use of secret settlements as a legal tool to silence survivors of sexual harassment," noted Attorney General Becerra. "Non-disclosure agreements or secret settlements rob victims of the right to speak up about their claims. They shield harassers from public scrutiny and allow repeat offenders to continue these despicable acts. We applaud Senator Leyva and Governor Brown for enacting this new law to protect the rights of survivors of sexual harassment.”

During her first term in office, Senator Leyva authored legislation signed into law to protect victims of sexual assault and harassment and ensure justice, including successful efforts to eliminate the statute of limitations on rape (SB 813) in 2016 and to criminalize sextortion (SB 500) in 2017.