Governor Newsom Signs Senator Leyva’s “Silenced No More Act”

SB 331 Will Take Effect On January 1, 2022

Thursday, October 7, 2021

SACRAMENTO – Building on California’s continued commitment to empowering survivors, Governor Gavin Newsom today signed historic legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that will expand current protections against secret settlements to now cover settlement agreements involving all forms of harassment or discrimination. 

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

“The California State Legislature and Governor Newsom have now spoken: California workers should absolutely be able to speak out—if they so wish—when they are a victim of any type of harassment or discrimination in the workplace,” Senator Leyva said.  “It is unconscionable that an employer would ever want or seek to silence the voices of survivors that have been subjected to racist, sexist, homophobic or other attacks at work.  To that end, I greatly appreciate the Governor’s signature of SB 331 as it will empower survivors to demand accountability and prevent future abuses by perpetrators.”

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 then-Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 820 (2018)—also known as the STAND (Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures) Act. This 2018 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 undoubtedly 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, the Governor signed 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.

Emphasizing 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.  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.

The “Silenced No More Act” will take effect on January 1, 2022.

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