Ex-Fox News host joins State House battle on nondisclosure agreements
The ‘silence can feel like suffocating,’ says Gretchen Carlson
WHEN GRETCHEN CARLSON filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes in a scandal that ultimately led to his firing, she said she had no idea that her complaint would help ignite the #MeToo movement, a cultural shift that has empowered women to go public with complaints about workplace sexual harassment.
Carlson signed a nondisclosure agreement as part of a $20 million settlement she reached with Fox, in which the news network publicly apologized to her. Her lawsuit is the subject of a new movie, “Bombshell.” But Carlson, who appeared at a State House press conference on Monday to speak out against policies that muffle the voice of victims, said she was not allowed to consult on that film, or talk to any journalists about her experience, because of the nondisclosure agreement.
“The silence can feel suffocating,” Carlson said.
Carlson was on Beacon Hill to advocate for a bill filed by Sen. Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat, that would prohibit employers from requiring employees to sign nondisclosure agreements related to sexual harassment or assault, both during employment or in case of a settlement. An employee could still request that their identity and any facts that could lead to the discovery of their identity be shielded in a settlement agreement.
The bill, S.929, is currently pending before the Judiciary Committee.
Today, six states ban companies from requiring an employee to sign an NDA as a condition of employment.
Fox News host Julie Roginsky, who also brought a lawsuit against Ailes and spoke at the press conference, said if women are silenced, others will tell their stories for them — whether through office gossip, or in the case of Fox News, through the movie “Bombshell.”
“We should be able to tell our own stories, to tell what really happened, not leave it to others to tell our stories for us,” she said.
Carlson and Roginsky started an organization called “Lift Our Voices” dedicated to ending the use of NDAs to cover up workplace harassment. Carlson said almost all the women who have reached out to her said the same thing: “When I found the courage to come forward, I was blacklisted, demoted and fired, and I’ve never worked in my chosen profession ever again.”
“As a nation, we shouldn’t be okay with that,” Carlson said.
DiZoglio emerged as an outspoken advocate against nondisclosure agreements in 2018, when she broke a nondisclosure agreement by speaking on the House floor about an incident that occurred when she was a House legislative aide. DiZoglio said she was the subject of unfounded rumors after a late-night party in which she and a male representative went into the empty House chamber, and she was then wrongfully terminated. She received a severance package that required her to sign an NDA.
The Senate, in January 2019, banned the use of nondisclosure agreements for Senate employees. The House, after debate, rejected a ban on nondisclosure agreements for employees in favor of a policy that allows victims to request a NDA. According to a House rules change made in March 2018, the House can only settle a legal claim related to sexual harassment with an NDA if requested by the person filing the claim.
No House employee has signed a nondisclosure agreement since the rule change, DeLeo said in a statement late Monday.
Gov. Charlie Baker has also said the executive branch will use NDAs only if the victim wants one.
DiZoglio, at the press conference, lit into DeLeo and Baker.
DiZoglio, who left the House when she was elected to the Senate in 2018, said she was publicly shamed in the House for coming forward. She said DeLeo has created a “toxic culture” in the House where anyone who speaks out against leadership is “ostracized.”
She said using victims’ rights to confidentiality to quash the bill is “exploiting” victims to “fool people” into opposing the policy.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, a high-profile attorney who has represented many victims of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, said “silencing” someone by requiring them to sign an NDA “revictimizes that victim.”
Speaking to reporters later in the day, both Baker and DeLeo defended their policies.“I think you should have the ability, if the victim is looking for one, to use an NDA to meet and satisfy their requirements,” Baker said. Baker said giving victims the opportunity to enter into an NDA if they choose, in order to protect their confidentiality, should be an option. “Not everybody wants to be public,” Baker said.
DeLeo said any nondisclosure signed by a House employee “will be the will of the victim.” DeLeo said House leadership made the decision to allow NDAs in limited circumstances after talking to national women’s organizations. “They were all unanimous in their support that they felt that should a person want a nondisclosure agreement, then they should have a nondisclosure agreement,” DeLeo said.