BOSTON — Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor whose sexual harassment lawsuit led to the downfall of Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, joined state lawmakers in Massachusetts on Monday to push a bill to curtail the use of nondisclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment.
Carlson, whose lawsuit is the basis for the film “Bombshell,” has pressed for the end of mandatory NDAs — confidentiality provisions and forced arbitration clauses that critics say seek to silence workers who want to speak publicly about toxic workplace conditions.
“Nondisclosure agreements were originally designed to safeguard the sharing of corporate secrets,” Carlson said. “They’re not supposed to protect predatory behavior.”
Carlson said the NDA she signed means she is legally prohibited from discussing what happened to her and can’t consult with filmmakers, writers, journalists or anyone else trying to tell her story. She said the silence can feel suffocating.
Carlson was in Massachusetts representing the group Lift Our Voices, which she helped create to highlight the need for equality in the workplace. Carlson’s lawsuit wasn’t in Massachusetts.
Democratic state Sen. Diana DiZoglio is sponsoring a bill in Massachusetts that would “deem void and unenforceable” any provision in a contract that requires the waiving of constitutional or legal rights related to a claim of sexual harassment.
The bill — which hasn’t come up for a vote — would also bar employers from retaliating against any individual who doesn’t agree to enter into a nondisclosure agreement related to sexual harassment. The bill also bans the use of public funds to silence an alleged victim or conceal details related to claims of sexual harassment or assault.
“Victims would still be able to settle with their employer, but that employer — for example, the governor or the speaker of the House — would no longer be able to use our hard-earned tax dollars to legally muzzle their employees about abusive experiences,” DiZoglio said.
The bill would not prevent victims from seeking an NDA if they want, she said.
DiZoglio said she was forced out of her job as a legislative aide in 2011 and pressured into signing a nondisclosure agreement after unfounded rumors of inappropriate conduct with a legislator.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said his policy is to use a nondisclosure agreement only if a victim seeks one.
“We think that’s an appropriate policy, and it’s one that’s endorsed by many women’s organizations,” Baker said.
Asked whether a similar policy should extend to private companies, Baker said, “that’s our policy, so obviously we think that’s a good idea.”
Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo also said the decision about whether to seek a nondisclosure agreement should be in the hands of victims.
“Our rules now state that should a victim request that there be no nondisclosure, then that will be the will of the victim, and we will follow that will,” he said. DeLeo said the rules were informed in part by experts including the Boston Rape Crisis Center.
Since 2010, about 33 House employees were offered small severance payments in exchange for executing a written agreement containing a nondisclosure agreement, according to DeLeo’s office. There have been no new NDAs since the House adopted its new rules.
The Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously last year to adopt a rule prohibiting nondisclosure clauses from being included in Senate employment contracts or enforced against senators and staff members.
Julie Roginsky, who also sued Ailes for sexual harassment, also attended the Monday news conference.
Ailes firmly denied the allegations, but was ousted from the network. He died in 2017.