New California law would exempt employees who speak out about discrimination from NDAs
February 8, 2021
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On Monday, California state Senator Connie Leyva introduced the Silenced No More Act, a bill that advocates say will protect employees who speak out about discrimination at work, even if they’ve signed nondisclosure agreements.

“SB 331 will prevent workers from being forced to sign non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements that would limit their ability to speak out about harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” Leyva said in a statement. “It is unacceptable for any employer to try to silence a worker because he or she was a victim of any type of harassment or discrimination—whether due to race, sexual orientation, religion, age or any other characteristic.”

The newly introduced legislation builds on work by Ifeoma Ozoma, a former Pinterest employee who went public in June, alongside her colleague Aerica Shimizu Banks, with allegations of racism and sexism at the company. Ozoma knew she was partially covered by a California law called CCP 1001, which passed in the wake of the Me Too movement to protect employees speaking out about sex discrimination in the office. But she also realized the law had serious limitations: it didn’t account for other forms of workplace harassment, including racism, according to Protocol.

“If Pinterest decides to sue me, they’d have to state affirmatively that the discrimination I faced was not because of my sex — it was because of my race,” Ozoma said in an interview with Protocol. “This has been the only time being a Black woman was a double-bind for the other person, not for me.”

After she went public, Ozoma started working to expand CCP 1001 protections.

If successful, the law would have a dramatic impact on the tech industry, which is famous for making workers sign strict nondisclosure agreements. These NDAs can include broad non-disparagement clauses which prevent employees from speaking out. The rule is especially hard for contract workers who often lack the protections and resources of full-time employees. In recent years, contractors at Facebook and Google have chosen to speak out anyway — and risked retaliation as a result.

The Silenced No More Act, which is jointly sponsored by the California Employment Lawyers Association and Equal Rights Advocates, covers “every discrimination category under California law,” Protocol reports. This includes race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, disability, and age, among others.

“NDAs are inherently harmful because they prevent workers from speaking out against abuses in the workplace,” said Jessica Stender, senior counsel for workplace justice and public policy at Equal Rights Advocates. “We are proud to cosponsor SB 331, which will prohibit forced NDAs related to all forms of discrimination—including overdue race discrimination protections—to ensure that workers are not silenced and discrimination is not swept under the rug.”

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