The Massachusetts Senate has passed legislation, sponsored by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), to eliminate the use of taxpayer-funded nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) across state government.
NDAs are legal documents that require confidentiality to protect intellectual property or trade secrets. The recent #MeToo movement and incidents involving the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Steve Wynn, Larry Nassar and Roger Ailes, however, have shined a light on how these agreements have also been abused to hide the misdeeds of harassers and abusers by requiring the legal silencing of victims.
The executive branch has publicly refused to release information regarding the amount of tax dollars spent on NDAs through the Governor’s Office. Public records requests have been made to several state agencies and revealed numerous NDAs have been given to employees over the course of the last several years. However, there is no record of how much in taxpayer dollars was spent to fund them or why the agreements were executed.
While the Massachusetts Senate earlier this session passed a change, also sponsored by DiZoglio, to its Senate Rules banning the use of NDAs in its chamber, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, known to have given out at least 33 NDAs in recent years, has not adopted such reform and continues to support the use of these taxpayer-funded hush agreements.
Six states to date, including California, Tennessee and Washington, have outright banned NDAs as a condition of employment for all employees, public or private. Recently, Gretchen Carlson, the woman at the center of the #metoo movement known for taking down Fox News titan Roger Ailes, joined Senator DiZoglio and others for a rally at the State House to urge the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and members of the legislature to support NDA reforms by passing DiZoglio’s legislation out of committee.
The bill was subsequently sent to study but DiZoglio informed members of the legislature that she still planned to bring the issue up for debate on the Senate floor as an amendment to the Senate’s comprehensive economic development legislation.
“We are with you, @DianaDiZoglio,” said Carlson in a recent Tweet. “Thank you for leading the way in Mass to unmuzzle women forced to sign NDAs and using taxpayer’s dollars to continue the unjust practice!”
“The practice of using taxpayer funded hush agreements to silence employees and victims of abuse across our state government is a shameful one, and one that must be ended – not only to help those who have already been silenced but also to protect potential future victims from abusers who could be hiding in plain sight,” said DiZoglio. “NDAs don’t just silence victims – they perpetuate harassment and outright assault and place others at risk by keeping these offenses secret. In passing this legislation with a 38-1 margin, the Senate took a clear position on the need to ban this practice in the public sector. I am calling on the Speaker and the Governor to open their hearts to the plight of victims and employees who are asking for nothing more than to be able to speak their truth about potential abuse. We can’t end the silence by perpetuating the silence.”