On October 5, the New York Times published a bombshell article detailing three decades of sexual harassment by acclaimed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The Times reported that Weinstein's employers–the Weinstein Company and formerly Miramax–paid out “at least eight settlements with women” who accused Weinstein of illegal activity. A report published three days later by the New Yorker confirmed that at least 13 women alleged that Weinstein “sexually harassed or assaulted them.”
Confidentiality Agreements Often Keep Sexual Harassment Private
In the aftermath of these and other reports, the Weinstein Company severed all ties with Harvey Weinstein on October 8. This is not the end of the story, however, either in the press or the courts. On October 23, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman opened an official inquiry into potential “gender discrimination and other civil rights violations” at the Weinstein Company, according to the Times. In a statement, Schneiderman said, “No New Yorker should be forced to walk into a workplace ruled by sexual intimidation, harassment or fear.”
At this stage, the Attorney General has not actually filed any formal criminal or civil charges. Rather, he issued subpoenas to the Weinstein Company seeking information related to the company's handling of prior sexual harassment and gender discrimination complaints. The Attorney General also reportedly wants to know about any of the prior settlements reported by the Times and other media outlets.
Indeed, the Weinstein scandal has brought renewed public attention to the common practice of using “confidentiality” or “nondisclosure” clauses in employment discrimination settlements. As the Washington Post explained in a recent article, “A typical confidentiality clause prohibits the employee not only from revealing the amount paid to her but also from discussing the facts and allegations relating to the underlying events.” An ex-employee who violates these terms may be liable for “liquidated damages” to her former employer, which in turn helps keep widespread discriminatory practices at a company from becoming public knowledge.
ThePost also noted that most confidentiality clauses are “one-way.” That is to say, while the employee must remain silent, the employer is free to say whatever it wants about the employee. For instance, the employer may give the harassed employee a negative job reference to potential future employers.
Will New Anti-Harassment Legislation Help?
Beyond the New York Attorney General's investigation, the state legislature may also adopt additional protections for employees who are vulnerable to a culture of sexual harassment. A Queens assemblywoman recently introduced a bill that would extend the state's employment discrimination laws to provide stronger protections for fashion industry models. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the legislation would, if adopted, “place responsibility onto the shoulders of photographers, retailers and designers, among others, should a model experience harassment on their watch.”
If you have experienced sexual harassment of any kind in the workplace, it is critical you speak with an experienced New York employment law attorney as soon as possible. Time is of the essence when it comes to sexual harassment, and any delay on your part may be used against you later in court. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar today at (800) 496-3076 if you need help right away.