On Nov. 12, a coalition of women’s groups will lead a march in Los Angeles opposing sexual harassment and the uneven balance of power between men and women at work.
The Take Back the Workplace march doesn’t just aim to raise awareness. Among the organizers’ policy proposals: an end to non-disclosure agreements and arbitration clauses built into employment contracts.
It’s a very specific demand, with deep ties to the culture of sexual assault and harassment highlighted by recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and other powerful media figures.
Non-disclosure agreements are clauses inserted in settlement terms that forbid one or both parties from speaking publicly about the dispute as a condition for receiving the money. Arbitration agreements in employment contracts stipulate that any dispute go to arbitration instead of court, where the details and results remain private and confidential.
These dry-sounding legal terms have helped create cones of silence around sexual harassment and assault claims, allowing abusers to hold on to powerful positions and their behavior to continue unabated.
Weinstein silenced victims with settlements for decades, according to the reporting of the New York Times. O’Reilly is said to have made payments to at least six women accusing him of sexual harassment, including a $32 million settlement in January, just before Fox News renewed his last contract. In Weinstein’s case, several victims have chosen to risk the legal repercussions that could come with violating the non-disclosure agreements to go public with their stories.
“The march organizers are saying such agreements should never be allowed in harassment cases because it allows employers to cover up predatory behavior that may go on for years,” said Carolyn Wheeler, a lawyer with the Washington DC firm Katz, Marshall & Banks. “In general, both types of provisions preclude the public airing of disputes about harassment and allow harassers to continue preying on other victims for decades.”
Abolishing such clauses has traction in politics, too. California state lawmaker Connie M. Leyva is introducing a bill in January to create a statewide ban on secret settlements in cases of sexual harassment, assault, or discrimination.
The march organizers are also supporting a proposal from producer Kathleen Kennedy for an entertainment industry task force to strengthen protections against sexual harassment. It’s another effort to use the momentum generated by the recent allegations to change the culture.
Tess Rafferty, a comedian and a co-organizer of the march, said she was motivated to do something after realizing that stories about abuse in her industry were coming out almost one year to the day after recordings surfaced of Donald Trump boasting in 2005 about groping women.
Rafferty says it’s not just women who are welcome at the Nov. 12 event.
“We want everyone to be there,” Rafferty said. “This affects all women and many men in every business and we want to be clear that this is for everyone.”