Legislation recently passed in the California Senate aims to protect employees who speak out about discrimination experienced at work, even if they’ve signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). This law would expand protections laid out in a previous act banning NDAs in cases of sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination, signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2018. Both pieces of legislation were sponsored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino).
“Silenced No More,” formally called SB 331, protects employees from broad confidentiality and settlement agreements regarding harassment or discrimination in the workplace, removing clauses requiring employees to sign these types of agreements as part of a severance or settlement package.
In an announcement, Senator Leyva said:
The name of the bill says it all, as no worker should ever be silenced from speaking out about their own experience of harassment or discrimination in the workplace. For far too long, these secret settlements and agreements have reinforced a culture of secrecy that prevents accountability, respect and justice. Workers in California deserve better than being forced into agreements that protect perpetrators and continue to harm survivors and others around them in the workplace.
If Governor Newsom signs SB 331, it will provide protection against provisions in employment agreements restricting disclosure about agreements regarding harassment or discrimination. The bill also would prohibit employers from making employees sign agreements or contracts binding them to silence about these types of unlawful acts, either as a condition of employment or as part of a severance agreement.
#MeToo and Silenced No More
SB 331 has its roots in the #MeToo movement, following in the footsteps of SB 1300 in 2018, and CCP 1001 in 2019. Before SB 1300, many California employers required their employees to solve mandatory arbitration agreements as part of their employment contract. This meant that claims went straight to arbitration, including claims of sexual harassment or assault. Arbitration is done in private, with outcomes remaining private and all parties signing non-disclosures.
With the passage of SB 1300, employers are prohibited from requiring employees to sign these types of releases. SB 331 expands the protections of SB 1300, which covers sexual harassment and similar actions, to cover all types of unlawful acts in the workplace. This legislation will help workers speak out about workplace abuse without fear of retaliation.
A Pinterest employee speaks out
In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Ifeoma Ozoma, a former employee of Pinterest, expressed her support of Silenced No More. Ozoma worked with Sen. Leyva to help draft the bill after recognizing the need for intersectional protection under California’s current settlement agreement laws. Ozoma and her colleague Aerica Shimizu Banks went public in 2020 with allegations of racism, wage discrimination, and retaliation at their employer Pinterest.
According to the Washington Post, Ozoma and Banks quit the company in 2020, going public in a series of Twitter threads claiming there is “little accountability at Pinterest, where some subordinates were berated, women were pushed out without warning, and executives in [CEO] Silbermann’s inner circle faced no consequences despite repeated complaints.”
When they did come forward despite signing an NDA, Ozoma noted they did so with the partial help of existing California legislation. However, as she wrote in the NYT, “But those protections did not include the race discrimination that I also faced as a Black woman. As such, only one part of my identity was protected, leaving me in a sort of legal limbo.”
If the Silence No More Act passes, sponsored by the California Employment Lawyers Association, it will cover all areas of discrimination protected by law: race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, disability, age, and other protected classes.
Equal Rights Advocates, another co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement, “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.”
Have you experienced discrimination in the workplace?
Even with our lawmakers drafting new legislation every day, discrimination continues in the workplace. Although discrimination can happen in countless ways, at its core, discrimination is when an employee (or job applicant) receives unfavorable treatment due to a specific characteristic, or being a member of a protected class – and it’s illegal.
Examples of discrimination against an employee can include things like:
- Refusing to accommodate the disability- or religious-related needs of employees
- Allowing or encouraging sexual harassment or racist behaviors to continue
- Adopting company policies that negatively affect workers in a protected class
- Refusing to hire or promote, or fire or demote, employees based on specific characteristic or membership in a protected class
These can include anything from failing to provide a new parent a place to breastfeed or pump to prohibiting an employee from speaking their native language in the workplace. If you have questions about whether or not you have experienced discrimination, talk to an experienced employment litigation attorney for guidance.
A lawyer can help gather information about your case, including relevant evidence like e-mails, text messages, letters from HR, and other documents. Your legal team can then file a complaint on your behalf, ensuring you are protected from retaliation. During the case, your attorneys fight for economic damages on your behalf, including wages lost as a result of the discrimination you endured. You may also be eligible for compensation for emotional distress.
The employment discrimination attorneys at Taylor & Ring protect employees throughout the Los Angeles area. If you’ve experienced discrimination of any kind on the job, talk to us today. We can help. To schedule a free consultation, call our office at 310-776-6390, or complete our contact form.