Senator Leyva’s “Silenced No More Act” Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee

SB 331 Removes Silencing Mechanisms That Harm Employees and Prevent Accountability

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

SACRAMENTO – Earlier today, legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) to empower survivors of any type of workplace harassment or discrimination passed from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sponsored jointly by the California Employment Lawyers Association, Earthseed and Equal Rights Advocates, Senate Bill 331—also known as the “Silenced No More Act”—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.

“SB 331 will prevent workers from being silenced because they were a victim of any type of harassment or discrimination,” Senator Leyva said.  “If they so wish, workers should always be able to speak out against this deplorable behavior in the workplace—both to demand accountability and to prevent future abuses by perpetrators.  The ‘Silenced No More Act’ will help to stop and reveal this culture of secrecy that has protected these abusers for far too long.  California workers deserve better than being forced into agreements that protect perpetrators and again harm the survivors who are silenced.”

In response to the #MeToo movement which revealed the significant role that secret settlements played in shielding perpetrators of sexually inappropriate behavior and even sex-related crimes, Senator Leyva authored and the Governor signed SB 820 (2018)—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, unless requested by the worker, as it was clear that secret settlements were helping to preserve 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.

In 2018, California also passed another #MeToo bill that made a number of crucial 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.

Underscoring 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 experiences created tremendous media interest and inspired other women to speak openly about their own stories.  The women eventually settled their claims and were protected by the STAND Act, but only for their gender-based claims. 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 sexual orientation and age), SB 331 will resolve a situation where the NDA covers only one aspect of the workers’ experience and claim.

Supported by AI Now Institute, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Anti-Defamation League, Bayla Ventures, Brandworkers, California Conference of Machinists, California Conference of the Amalgamated Transit Union, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, California Women’s Law Center, The Center for Institutional Courage, Consumer Attorneys of California, Disability Rights California, Engineers and Scientists of California / IFPTE/ Local 20/ AFL-CIO, Force the Issue, Indivisible California: StateStrong, Legal Aid at Work, Lift Our Voices, National Association of Social Workers/ California Chapter , National Council of Jewish Women-California, National Employment Law Project, Professional and Technical Engineers / IFPTE / Local 21 / AFL-CIO, Radical Candor LLC, Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, SEIU California, TechEquity Collaborative, The People’s Parity Project, The Real Facebook Oversight Board, UNITE HERE, AFL-CIO, Utility Workers Union of America, Vaya Consulting LLC, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Whistleblower International Network, Women’s Foundation California and Work Equity, SB 331 will next be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

(1) https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/07/03/pinterest-race-bias-black-employees/