Lawmakers in three states are taking aim at the settlement agreements that they say enable serial harassers and predators in the workplace. A New York bill would void any employment contract or agreement that conceals claims of harassment, retaliation, discrimination, or other violations of employment law. And state legislators in California and New Jersey have said they're similarly interested in ending secret settlements in cases of sexual harassment.
These efforts come after the New York Times revealed that producer Harvey Weinstein has privately settled accusations of harassment, assault, and rape from multiple women over the course of decades. The accusations had circulated as rumors for years, but in many cases, women were prevented from speaking publicly because settlement agreements required them to be quiet.
Since then, an avalanche of accusations have accumulated against Weinstein. (He has denied that he in any instance engaged in nonconsensual sex.) And last week, the New York Times revealed that former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly in January agreed to pay a former analyst $32 million in one of a series of settlements he has made with women over the course of his career.
BuzzFeed News asked leading companies in California and New York if they supported legislation ending secrecy in sexual harassment settlements. Only Vox Media, gave a definitive answer — yes — on the record.
The New York bill, which was introduced earlier this month, would void any contract provision that allows an employer to employee to keep quiet about sexual harassment and discrimination claims. Here's what prominent New York companies had to say:
7. The New York Times Company
The company declined to comment, saying, "As a general matter of policy, we do not take public positions on legislation that our newsroom may cover."
A spokesperson said, “While we have yet to review the legislation, BuzzFeed strongly supports in principle legislation that makes it easier to hold sexual harassers accountable for their actions.”
The California legislation, which is expected to be introduced early next year by Democratic state Sen. Connie Leyva, would "ban secret settlements (confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements) in sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual discrimination cases." Almost all of the California-based companies BuzzFeed News reached out to either declined to comment or did not respond to multiple requests for comment about whether they would support such a bill:
18. Warner Bros.
"We're open to it," said Paul McGuire, senior vice president of worldwide corporate communications.
25. Wells Fargo
The company said it does not comment or take positions on pending legislation that has not yet been introduced.
"We’ll review this bill when it’s drafted," a company spokesperson, speaking for Google as well as YouTube, its subsidiary, told BuzzFeed News.
Twitter spokeswoman Brielle Villablanca wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News:
"We take all allegations of sexual harassment and other forms of workplace misconduct seriously, and investigate and respond as the circumstances merit. We have robust policies and processes in place, and we continue to review and improve upon these practices to best support our employees.
"That said, it would be premature to comment on legislation before it’s been drafted.”
"We don't have anything to share at this time, but look forward to seeing the bill when it's introduced," Pinterest spokeswoman Malorie Lucich told BuzzFeed News.
Oath, which owns Yahoo and AOL, and has dual headquarters in Manhattan, New York, and Sunnyvale, California, did not respond to a request for comment.
This post will be updated with any responses received after publication.
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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Molly Hensley-Clancy is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. She covers the intersection of business and education.
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Davey Alba is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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