House, Senate go different routes on non-disclosures

Dizoglio, who failed to ban the agreements as a rep, succeeds as senator

THE SENATE VOTED UNANIMOUSLY on Thursday to ban the use of non-disclosure agreements one day after the House overwhelmingly refused to take a similar action.

“We are using public funds to silence victims and to cover up the misdeeds of perpetrators who may be politicians and their staff,” said Sen. Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat, after the vote. “I think it’s unfortunate this was not passed on the House side. I think it’s a no-brainer. But I’m very proud of the Senate for adopting this today.”

DiZoglio, who clashed with House leadership over the same issue last session when she was a state representative, made her first speech in the Senate on Thursday in favor of an amendment she filed to the chamber’s rules banning the use of non-disclosure agreements. The agreements are typically used as part of a settlement or severance package to ban the parties to the arrangement from talking about the matter publicly.

Rep. Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat who defended the House’s policy on the floor Wednesday night, said under her chamber’s rules only the victim or survivor of sexual harassment can request a non-disclosure agreement.

“A perpetrator can never request an NDA, and so I can tell you that I am proud that the House of Representatives continues to have a trauma-informed rule that places the victim at the center of our rules,” Decker said. “The House chose not to take away those choices from the survivor.”

Decker noted that Rep. Natalie Higgins, a sexual assault survivor who has worked with others in similar situations, spoke on the floor about how non-disclosure agreements can be useful for those who have been victimized. “I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to take away choice from victims who are survivors,” she said.

Decker and Reps. David Rogers of Cambridge and Michael Day of Stoneham watched from the Senate gallery as the chamber adopted DiZoglio’s amendment.

Sen. Diana DiZoglio of Methuen.

A surge of sexual assault and harassment allegations involving some of the most powerful people in media and politics around the country has drawn attention to the issue of nondisclosure agreements.

DiZoglio has a personal history with the issue. When she was a legislative aide, rumors swirled around a late-night incident involving her and a lawmaker in the House chamber. She was cleared of any wrongdoing, but her boss fired her, she said on the House floor last year, breaking the terms of a non-disclosure agreement that she said she felt pressured to sign. At the time, DiZoglio was a recent college graduate, without family wealth to lean on and a broken-down car to deal with, so she signed the non-disclosure agreement and walked away with six weeks of pay.

The year after she was fired from her staff position, 2012, DiZoglio ran and won a seat in the House. She tried but failed to pass legislation banning non-disclosures last year.

“I can tell you from personal experience that when you’re in a tumultuous situation and when you feel like there are no other options – even if there are – it’s very easy to be manipulated into signing an agreement like this and waive your rights,” DiZoglio said. “I felt I had no other option at the time.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said last year that 33 nondisclosure agreements had been negotiated over the years with employees who were terminated from their jobs. He said none of the agreements related to sexual harassment.

“Non-disclosure agreements isolate victims; they make it so that victims can’t even speak to their family, their friends, members of their church. They protect the perpetrator,” DiZoglio said.

Nearly the entire House, however, took a different view. Only Reps. Russell Holmes of Boston, Maria Robinson of Framingham, John Rogers of Norwood, and Angelo Scaccia of Boston voted on Wednesday in favor of Rep. Patrick Kearney’s amendment to bar the House from entering into such agreements.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

The House and Senate now have different rules on non-disclosure agreements. They have yet to approve joint rules covering dealings between the two branches.

In addition to her rules amendment, DiZoglio has filed labor legislation that includes a provision barring the use of public funds “for the purpose of silencing a complainant or concealing the details related to claims of sexual harassment or assault whether or not raised in court or administrative proceedings.” According to her office, the bill also seeks to eliminate non-disclosure agreements pertaining to sexual harassment in employment contracts.