A New York State Senator, whose constituents include Harvey Weinstein, wants to make it easier for sexual harassment victims to speak out
This politico wants to make it easier for survivors to say #MeToo.
Brad Hoylman, a New York State Senator whose district includes disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s Manhattan pad, has co-sponsored legislation to make it easier for survivors of workplace sexual misconduct to speak out. If it becomes law, the bill, as currently written, would bar organizations from making contractual provisions with the effect of concealing claims of discrimination, harassment or other violations of public policy.
The new language beefs up a bill Hoylman had proposed which would render non disclosure agreements void if they were used to cover up a smaller group of offenses. The legislator, whose constituents include many of Manhattan’s media powerbrokers, originally wrote the bill after allegations of misconduct emerged against the late Fox News chairman Roger Ailes and toughened it after more than 60 women have come forth to accuse Weinstein of offenses that include rape. (Fox News is a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, which shares common ownership with Moneyish publisher Dow Jones.)
The 65-year-old Weinstein had previously settled with some women he was said to have sexually harassed or assaulted, though the compensation came with confidentiality clauses attached. Those prevented many alleged victims from speaking out about their experiences, frustrating enterprising reporters until a recent series of bombshell reports from the New York Times and the New Yorker.
“There’s really a sense of outrage that companies can silence victims, that the harasser keeps his job and is able to [commit] injuries onto a whole new set of victims,” Hoylman tells Moneyish. “We have strong labor laws in New York to protect employees; it doesn’t make sense that companies can negotiate them away. It’s wrong.”
The Democratic lawmaker hopes the proposed legislation will make it easier for women like Zelda Perkins to come forward. Earlier this week, Perkins, who was Weinstein’s assistant two decades ago, broke her NDA to disclose that her ex-boss had previously harassed her and a colleague. “Unless somebody does this there won’t be a debate about how egregious these agreements are and the amount of duress that victims are put under,” she told the Financial Times of London.
Hoylman says his aim isn’t to target companies per se, but rather to prod them into creating better working conditions for their staff. Such allegations “have enormous impact on a company’s reputation, customer base and ability to attract talent,” he says. “Secret settlements are potentially risky, particularly when they protect perpetrators from law enforcement or from being dismissed.”
The bill will be considered in January, when the part-time state legislature reconvenes, and is co-sponsored with New York Assemblywoman Nily Rozic. The Senator hasn’t yet officially submitted the new language, so legislative colleagues and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose signature is necessary for it to become law, haven’t taken official positions. (Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, recently gave a speech that dwelt on incidents of harassment she herself had faced.) “We would not be able to comment until we see the actual language,” says a spokesperson for the Business Council of New York State.
However, there is a risk that Hoylman’s bill may make it harder for some victims to receive compensation. Claims of sexual misconduct are notoriously hard to prove in a court of law and financial settlements—even if they come with confidentiality clauses attached—are often the easiest form of redress for a victim. By voiding such agreements, companies could be less willing to pay out. This in turn, could force survivors to turn to a long and complicated legal process.
“Settlement still remains a possibility,” Hoylman insists. “We’re just expanding options for victims.”
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