On Wednesday, the House passed the Speak Out Act, legislation that prohibits the use of nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs, in cases of workplace sexual harassment or sexual assault. In other words, the bill empowers victims to speak out, share their stories, and seek justice without fear of retaliation for breaking previously signed NDAs.
The House passed the act 315–109—a decent showing of bipartisanship, yet a glaring mark on the 109 Republicans who voted against it. Over half the House Republican caucus voted against the bill, while the Senate passed it with unanimous consent in late September.
Thwarting the use of NDAs is important, as they have been weaponized to bind victims from speaking out against abusive employers or workplace superiors. That prevents victims from stopping potential future harm from being inflicted upon colleagues. Gretchen Carlson and Julie Rognisky, former Fox News employees and advocates for the bill, are familiar with this dynamic. Both bound by NDAs, the pair filed lawsuits against late Fox executive Roger Ailes, alleging sexual assault.
“The goal of the silencing mechanisms is to isolate you, to make you feel like you’re the only one that this is happening to, to protect predators by ensuring that nobody will know,” Roginsky told The 19th. “What survivors go through is something that has driven countless women out of the workforce because they have to choose between staying in an untenable situation silently or leaving their chosen careers.”
The Speak Out Act follows a related bill, signed by President Joe Biden in March, that prohibits companies from “resolving” claims of sexual assault and sexual harassment through arbitration. Such resolution processes allowed superiors to discreetly deal with cases away from public scrutiny, enabling them to get away with abusing employees at will.
Such bills are straightforwardly to the public’s benefit. They protect victims of sexual assault and harassment. They empower workers who are exploited by their employers. And they support the public’s interest: Job applicants become aware of the culture they could be joining; consumers of a company know what kind of culture they could be supporting.
And still, 109 Republicans found a way to vote against it.