Senator Leyva’s “Silenced No More Act” Passes Assembly Labor and Employment Committee

SB 331 Helps End Hostile Work Environments By Empowering Workers

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

SACRAMENTO – Affirming the importance of empowering survivors of workplace harassment or discrimination, the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee today passed legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that would expand current protections against secret settlements to now cover settlement agreements involving all forms of harassment or discrimination.  Also known as the “Silenced No More Act,” Senate Bill 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 is vital legislation that will empower survivors of workplace harassment or discrimination and help to hold perpetrators accountable,” Senator Leyva said.  “I find it absolutely unacceptable that workers would ever be forced to stay silent about harassment or discrimination that they suffer anywhere, particularly in the workplace.  The ‘Silenced No More Act’ does precisely that: It helps to end the culture of secrecy that oftentimes enables abusers to continue their inexcusable and reprehensible behavior without any consequences for months or even years.”

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 confidentiality is 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 improper—and even illegal—behavior in the workplace are able to speak openly about their experiences.

In 2018, California also passed another #MeToo bill (SB 1300, Jackson) that made a number of crucial changes to California’s harassment and discrimination laws. 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, though 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.

Sponsored jointly by the California Employment Lawyers Association, Earthseed and Equal Rights Advocates, SB 331 is also supported by dozens of women’s rights, labor, legal, social justice, equity and other organizations.