Lawmakers sent Gov. Phil Murphy a bill that would ban the use of non-disclosure agreements in workplace sexual harassment settlements – a mechanism proponents of the measure say is used to silence harassment victims.
Senate Bill 121, introduced on the heels of the #MeToo movement, would prevent those kinds of agreements in the future and nullify any such existing agreements.
The #MeToo movement highlighted many instances of employers using similar non-disclosure agreements to silence victims of sexual harassment and assault.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th district and a sponsor of S121, said the legislation is necessary because employers are using NDAs to “silence and intimidate victims of sexual assault and harassment.”
But Alida Kass, president and chief counsel of the New Jersey Civil Justice Institute, said the measure would clash with the U.S. Constitution because it would block any sort of arbitration agreements for employees.
Kass added, the bill would result in a stream of “ensuing” and frivolous litigation that would be “costly to employers and employees.”
The state Senate approved S121 in a 36-0 vote and the Assembly in a 68-4 vote with four abstentions, both at their Thursday voting session.
S121’s approval comes at the heels of sexual assault allegations former Murphy campaign volunteer and current housing official Katie Brennan levied against Al Alvarez, a campaign staffer and later chief of staff at the Schools Development Authority.
Brennan is currently suing the state, the Murphy administration and Alvarez, alleging she was forced into an NDA from which she is seeking relief. Alvarez, who denies the allegations, resigned from his post at the SDA in October after a reporter from The Wall Street Journal contacted him about the allegations.
The state’s Office of Equal Employment and Affirmative Action announced it was opening an investigation into the allegations against Alvarez, which would bar Brennan from publicly discussing any aspect of the investigation.
“Through her own experience, Brennan has seen firsthand how the state uses its ‘confidentiality’ policies to shield and protect wrongdoers and hide complaints of sexual misconduct and discrimination,” Brennan’s attorney Katy McClure of Holmdel-based Smith Eibeler LLC said in a statement.
“Now, after forcing Ms. Brennan to tell her story publicly in order to be heard, the state seeks to silence Ms. Brennan under the guise of conducting an investigation,” McClure added.