Assembly Passes Senator Leyva’s “Silenced No More Act”

SB 331 Empowers Survivors to Speak Openly About Workplace Harassment or Discrimination

Thursday, August 26, 2021

SACRAMENTO – Earlier today, the California State Assembly approved legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that seeks to empower survivors of workplace harassment or discrimination in California.

Sponsored jointly by the California Employment Lawyers Association, Earthseed and Equal Rights Advocates, SB 331 would expand current protections against secret settlements to now cover settlement agreements involving all forms of harassment or discrimination.  Known also as the “Silenced No More Act”, this legislative proposal would additionally 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.

“Now just one vote away from reaching the Governor’s desk, SB 331 will eliminate these silencing tools that harm employees and prevent accountability in workplaces across California,” Senator Leyva said.  “It is absolutely unacceptable for an employer to try to silence a worker because they were a victim of any type of harassment or discrimination—whether due to race, sexual orientation, religion, age or any other characteristic.  If they so wish, workers should always be able to speak openly about harassment or discrimination that they suffered in the workplace so that they can demand accountability and prevent future abuses by perpetrators.  I appreciate my Assembly colleagues approving the ‘Silenced No More Act’ as it will—if and when it is signed into law—help to restore the ability of survivors to speak their truth freely and without consequences.”

In response to the #MeToo movement which revealed the considerable 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.

Since 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 inappropriate—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 important 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.

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 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 worker’s experience and claim.

Now returning to the California State Senate for a final concurrence vote, SB 331 is also supported by dozens of women’s rights, labor, legal, social justice, equity and other organizations.  If the “Silenced No More Act” passes from the California State Senate on the final concurrence vote, SB 331 would then advance to the Governor for consideration.