Mon, 11/14/2022 – 18:01
WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman David N. Cicilline (RI-01), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, today testified in the House Rules Committee in favor of S. 4524, the Speak Out Act, legislation to bar judicial enforcement of pre-dispute non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements in sexual harassment and sexual assault disputes. The legislation builds on the progress made with H.R. 4445, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, which was enacted earlier this year to restore the right of survivors to have their day in court.
The Congressman’s testimony, as delivered, is below.
S. 4524, the Speak Out Act, would prevent the enforcement of pre-dispute non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements—or forced NDAs—in sexual harassment and sexual assault disputes.
This bipartisan, bicameral legislation is simple: it will ensure that any survivor who wants to share their story can. It does so by prohibiting the enforcement of forced NDAs in everyday contracts that silence survivors before a legal dispute even arises.
It is unthinkable that widespread sexual misconduct can be covered up and swept under the rug because of NDAs snuck into take-it-or-leave-it contracts. And it is unconscionable that millions of people fear risking their livelihood for speaking out about sexual predators.
Last year, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing to examine the impact coercive contract provisions like forced arbitration and non-disclosure agreements had on survivors of sexual harassment and assault. One witness, Tatiana Spottiswoode, testified that her abuser, former Afiniti CEO Zia Chishti, used confidentiality clauses in her employment contract to keep multiple instances of overt sexual harassment and violent assault hidden while Ms. Spottiswoode’s allegations were arbitrated.
She testified that, as “the CEO of the Company, he had power over my life and career, and I was anxious not to insult him or make him mad.” And while she received a settlement in arbitration, his lawyers offered to give her father $1 million in addition to her arbitration award to prevent the case from ever becoming public.
Ms. Spottisewoode was able to come before the Judiciary Committee to testify about Mr. Chishti’s abusive behavior and make her story public only after receiving a congressional subpoena compelling her testimony.
It is time for this abusive practice to end by enacting the Speak Out Act. This legislation will bring sunlight and transparency to a system that relies on the shadows to hide horrific conduct; it will make our society more just; and it will help end the culture of silence that allows sexual predators to evade accountability.
This bipartisan, bicameral legislation has already passed the Senate unanimously, and it is supported by a broad coalition of public interest organizations, including the American Association for Justice, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, RALIANCE, the Army of Survivors, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
It’s also important to complement H.R. 4445, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, which we enacted earlier this year to restore the right of survivors to have their day in court.
I look forward to sending this to the President’s desk this Congress and taking another step in our critical and ongoing work to eliminate the forced silence that prevents survivors of sexual misconduct from having their voices heard.
I want to thank my colleagues, Congresswoman Frankel, Congressman Buck, Congresswoman Jayapal, Griffith, Bustos, and Owens for their leadership on this issue, and I urge my colleagues to support the bill.