Senator Leyva Introduces the “Silenced No More Act”

SB 331 Empowers Victims of Any Type of Workplace Harassment or Discrimination to Speak Out

Monday, February 8, 2021

SACRAMENTO – Building on her legislative work to empower survivors of harassment and discrimination and prevent future abuses by perpetrators, Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) introduced legislation earlier today that would expand current protections against secret settlements to now cover settlement agreements involving all forms of harassment or discrimination.  SB 331 would also expand the prohibition on overly broad confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses in employment agreements to cover workers who are required to sign these types of clauses as part of a severance agreement.

In 2018—in response to the #MeToo movement which revealed the key role that secret settlements played in shielding perpetrators of sexually inappropriate behavior and even sex-related crimes—Senator Leyva authored and the Legislature passed SB 820, also known as the STAND (Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures) Act. This historic law now specifically bans non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sex discrimination, as it was clear that secret settlements were helping to perpetuate hostile work environments by allowing complaints to be hidden from public view.

As secret settlements clearly play as much a role in perpetuating workplace discrimination, harassment and bias based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, etc. as they do related to sexual harassment or sex discrimination, The “Silenced No More Act” seeks to ensure that those who raise these complaints about wrong—and even illegal—behavior in the workplace are able to speak openly about their experiences.

“SB 331 will prevent workers from being forced to sign non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements that would limit their ability to speak out about harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” Senator Leyva said.  “It is unacceptable for any employer to try to silence a worker because he or she was a victim of any type of harassment or discrimination—whether due to race, sexual orientation, religion, age or any other characteristic.  SB 331 will empower survivors to speak out—if they so wish—so they can hold perpetrators accountable and hopefully prevent abusers from continuing to torment and abuse other workers.”

California also passed another #MeToo bill in 2018 that made several important changes to California’s harassment and discrimination laws (SB 1300, Jackson). Though confidentiality and non-disparagement agreements that prevent workers from disclosing information about unlawful acts in the workplace are now banned as a condition of employment due to SB 1300, many employers still force workers to sign these types of provisions as part of severance packages when a worker leaves a job.   

Highlighting the need for SB 331, two Black women recently raised gender and race discrimination claims against a company where “they were underpaid, faced racist comments from their manager and were subject to retaliation.”1  While the company initially dismissed their claims, the women’s stories generated tremendous media interest and inspired other women to speak openly about their own experiences.  The women eventually settled their claims and were protected by the STAND Act, but only for their gender-based claims. In other words, though they can speak about their experience involving gender discrimination, they cannot speak about their experience involving race discrimination.  As harassment or discrimination claims are oftentimes intersectional (e.g., based on gender and race or age and sexual orientation), SB 331 will resolve a situation where the NDA covers only one aspect of the workers’ experience and claim.

“My experience facing workplace discrimination, then publically demanding accountability, speaks to the importance of this legislation for all Californians. I'm proud to support this bill and the intersectional protections it would bring to tens of millions of workers,” said former Pinterest employee Ifeoma Ozoma.

Jointly sponsored by the California Employment Lawyers Association and Equal Rights Advocates, the “Silenced No More Act” removes oppressive silencing mechanisms that further harm employees, prevent accountability and allow harassment and discrimination to continue unchecked.

“NDAs are inherently harmful because they prevent workers from speaking out against abuses in the workplace. We are proud to cosponsor SB 331, which will prohibit forced NDAs related to all forms of discrimination—including overdue race discrimination protections—to ensure that workers are not silenced and discrimination is not swept under the rug,” stated Jessica Stender, Senior Counsel for Workplace Justice & Public Policy at Equal Rights Advocates.

“Combatting systemic racism and other forms of discrimination and harassment in the workplace cannot succeed unless workers’ voices are heard.  Yet employers have increasingly been allowed to use silencing agreements to strip workers of their right to speak out about their experience in the workplace,” noted Mariko Yoshihara, Legislative Counsel and Policy Director at California Employment Lawyers Association.  “This bill is critically important to ensure that workers never have to sign away their ability to speak out about harassment or discrimination as a condition of their employment or to settle a claim.”

SB 331 will be considered in Senate policy committee(s) following referral by the Senate Rules Committee.