WASHINGTON — This week, a bill backed by Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17) to combat sexual harassment and assault passed the U.S. House of Representatives with broad bipartisan support. Led by Congresswoman Lois Frankel and Congressman Ken Buck, he the Speak Out Act would void nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) for claims of sexual assault and harassment.
The Senate voted to pass the Speak Out Act unanimously on September 29, 2022. The bill now heads to the White House for President Biden’s signature.
“For way too long a sinister culture of silence has protected predators and has shamed survivors. But as the saying goes, sunshine is the best disinfectant. And the only way to dismantle this culture of silence is to let the voices and stories of survivors be heard. Because those stories are powerful,” said Congresswoman Bustos. “Survivors’ stories launched the #MeToo movement. Survivors’ stories inspired my bill to end forced arbitration and today’s bill. And it will be those stories that will continue to bring change.”
Under current federal and most state law, employees and consumers can sign away their right to bring forward an allegation of sexual harassment or assault – even before abuse or assault occurs – through NDAs. This practice silences survivors, shields abusers and perpetuates sexual assault and harassment.
For claims of sexual assault and harassment, the Speak Out Act will:
- Prohibit the use of NDAs between employers and current, former and prospective employees, as well as independent contractors;
- Prohibit the use of NDAs between providers of goods and services and consumers, and;
- Void existing NDAs in cases that have not yet been filed.
Congresswoman Bustos’ full remarks urging passing of the Speak Out Act can be found below:
Madam Speaker –
I rise to strongly support the Speak Out Act, carried by my dear friend and colleague, Congresswoman Lois Frankel. And I want to talk t you about why this so important.
Eight months ago, I stood in this chamber to speak about my bill to expand the rights of sexual assault and sexual harassment survivors to seek justice.
I wrote a bill that is now law after reading the haunting stories of the thousands of women from a company called Sterling, Inc., the parent company of Kay and Jared Jewelers. Each story was more disturbing than the one before it.
Managers demanding sexual acts in exchange for employment benefits. Company events where women were expected to undress publicly. In one story, a former employee attended an overnight meeting… where she woke up with her underwear pushed down to her ankles… And her manager raping her.
And all of this stayed quiet and secret for years all because of a few words that are hidden away in legal language, filed alongside other forms and filled out as part of employment paperwork.
The women at Sterling, Inc. were silenced by forced arbitration clauses that prevented them from seeking justice in a court of law. But we know that these aren’t the first nightmare stories that we’ve heard, and they won’t be the last.
For way too long this sinister culture of silence has protected predators and has shamed survivors. But as the saying goes, sunshine is the best disinfectant.
And the only way to dismantle this culture of silence is to let the voices and stories of survivors be heard. Because those stories are powerful.
Survivors’ stories launched the #MeToo movement. Survivors’ stories inspired my bill to end forced arbitration and today’s bill. And it will be those stories that will continue to bring change.
I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stand on the right side of history and support the Speak Out Act.