Harvey Weinstein Sexual Harassment Scandal Puts Confidentiality Agreements Back in Spotlight

The rash of allegations concerning Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment of women has resurrected the debate over non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality clauses in financial settlements. The latest high-profile instance of such an agreement surfaced late last week when it was reported that in January, former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly paid $32 million in a confidential settlement over a threatened sexual harassment lawsuit.

For decades, the Catholic Church used non-disclosure agreements with child sexual abuse survivors to keep the scandal away from the eyes of the public and the media.  The LA Times recently published an article on the subject, “Harvey Weinstein. Bill O’Reilly. Roger Ailes. Bill Cosby. The Catholic Church.

All were able to hide years and sometimes decades of allegations of sexual harassment or assault through the use of settlements agreements or other contracts that included nondisclosure agreements: legal provisions that swear employees or alleged victims to secrecy.

Those cases — and especially the unfolding Weinstein scandal — have drawn criticism that the agreements allow powerful companies and individuals to avoid scrutiny and continue abusive practices. Abuse advocates and others are calling for clear restrictions on their use.

Most abuse survivor advocates have publicly disavowed the use of such agreements, stating that they allow abuse to continue in secret without any accountability for the company or organization that employed the abuser or otherwise allowed the abuse.

According to the LA Times, a group of Weinstein Co. employees wants to be released from their signed nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs. These employees signed a letter stating:

We ask that the company let us out of our NDAs immediately — and do the same for all former Weinstein Company employees — so we may speak openly, and get to the origins of what happened here, and how.

In most instances, such non-disclosure agreements serve the interests of the abuser and his employer rather than the interests of justice.  Financial settlements aside, non-disclosure agreements allow abuse and institutional corruption to continue at the expense of an unsuspecting public.

When we reach settlements for our clients in sex abuse cases, we refuse to agree to any kind of confidentiality clause or non-disclosure agreement that limits our clients’ right to discuss what happened to them. We will agree to keep the amount of the settlement confidential, which protects our clients’ privacy. But our clients’ lives are their lives, and they have the right to share their stories however they want. Gag orders are not justice.

Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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