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Legislators Challenge Nondisclosure Agreements on Beacon Hill

Today, I testified in front of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary along side State Senator Diana DiZoglio in support of S.929, An Act Concerning Sexual Harassment Policies in the Commonwealth. This legislation provides additional protection for victims of sexual harassment while at the same time ensuring important transparency regarding the disclosure of tax payer funded settlement agreements.

By Mary Markos
Boston Herald

Two legislators — both self-identified survivors of sexual misconduct — are calling out House Speaker Robert DeLeo for keeping nondisclosure agreements as an option they say will “silence victims” on Beacon Hill.

“These agreements continue to be abused across state government, using taxpayer dollars,” state Sen. Diana DiZoglio said.

The Methuen Democrat said DeLeo’s policy on sexual harassment is filled with loopholes. She said victims can choose a nondisclosure agreement if DeLeo and his appointees “believe the victim’s claim of sexual harassment.”

For harassment claims that are not approved, DiZoglio added citing her own alleged harassment case eight years ago, they can be required to take a nondisclosure agreement and waive their rights to file lawsuits or to speak out.

When asked about the issue Monday, DeLeo was rushed away by staff who provided a statement pointing to their protocol, which requires House counsel, the director of Human Resources and the Equal Employment Opportunity officer to rule out sexual harassment before entering into a nondisclosure agreement.

DiZoglio filed a bill to write into law that a victim of sexual harassment cannot be required to sign a nondisclosure agreement across state government, but can request one if they should chose to do so. The legislation also bans the use of taxpayer dollars, “from being used to silence victims,” she said.

Since 2010, there have been 33 nondisclosure agreements out of the House, according to DeLeo’s office. A spokeswoman for DeLeo said “none” of them were to settle complaints of sexual harassment.

“Mine did,” said DiZoglio of her nondisclosure agreement when she was a House aide.

State Rep. Alyson Sullivan (R-Abington) testified with DiZoglio on the bill Monday, before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, where she slammed the secrecy surrounding the agreements.

“Taxpayers have a right to know when, how much and why public funds are being used to settle sexual harassment and assault claims and victims need protection,” Sullivan said.

Speaking from personal experience, DiZoglio argued that she was told she would not receive her severance pay unless she signed a nondisclosure agreement after being “fired based on sexual harassment and gender discrimination” in 2011. She said the same would happen today.

DeLeo’s office said they understand why a victim of sexual harassment would “fear disclosing it,” but “reject any assertion” that they were aware of it in DiZoglio’s case — adding an investigation “determined that no member, officer or employee of the House had engaged in any inappropriate conduct.”

A spokeswoman added: “As such, allegations that the House sought to silence her and/or to cover up any harassment with the 2011 agreement are simply false.”

The Senate unanimously banned the use of these agreements in January, but the House left them on the table. They instead reaffirmed requirements adopted last year based on best practices from the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, which include a request in writing from the victim for a nondisclosure agreement and a 15-day review period.

DiZoglio added that DeLeo “did a fantastic job, with help, of convincing the membership that his proposal somehow empowers victims to be able to have options.”

When asked about whether the loopholes DiZoglio raised should be fixed, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday his understanding was that under DeLeo’s policy “you would only use a nondisclosure if the victim wanted a nondisclosure.”

Suzanne Dubus, CEO of Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, a member program of Jane Doe Inc., is working with the senator and called her a “champion for survivors” for taking on the nondisclosure battle.