Nadler Floor Statement for the Speak Out Act
Washington, November 16, 2022
“Madam Speaker, S. 4524, the “Speak Out Act,” empowers survivors of sexual misconduct by prohibiting the use of non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses that serve to silence survivors who entered agreements containing those clauses before a dispute arises.
“Often buried in the fine print of contracts of adhesion that workers and consumers sign every day to secure employment, goods, or services, these confidentiality clauses have contributed to the culture of silence in cases involving sexual misconduct. As such, they have routinely enabled sexual predators to evade accountability.
“The confidential nature of these clauses makes it extremely difficult to fully diagnose the scope of this problem. Nevertheless, experts estimate that more than one-third of workers in the United States are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement in their employment contracts.
“This is particularly concerning because of the rampant nature of sexual abuse in the workplace. An estimated 81% of women and 43% of men will experience sexual harassment in their lifetimes, and more than half of all women report being subjected to unwanted sexual activity while in the workplace.
“But these appalling numbers do not even tell the full story. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the vast majority of survivors simply never report incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
“Today, we will take an important step towards fixing this problem by banning the enforcement of nondisclosure and nondisparagement clauses agreed to before a sexual harassment or sexual assault dispute arises. For the purposes of this bill, a dispute arises when a person chooses to exercise their legal rights by asserting a claim of sexual harassment or sexual assault in some official context, such as by complaining to a government agency or by filing a lawsuit.
“This legislation continues Congress’s important work to protect the rights of survivors to come forward and hold perpetrators accountable for abuse. “Earlier this year, on a bipartisan basis, we enacted H.R. 4445, which empowers survivors to decide whether they resolve their disputes in court or through arbitration.
“That bill was an example of how Congress can—and should—function. We worked together, across the aisle, to identify a problem, establish a bipartisan solution to that problem, and pass legislation to restore the right of millions of Americans to their day in court.
“The Speak Out Act is an opportunity for us to work together once again to end the oppressive culture of silence hiding sexual misconduct, promote transparency and accountability, and make the workplace safer for everyone.
“This legislation has already passed the Senate unanimously, and it is supported by a broad coalition of public-interest organizations, including the American Association for Justice, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, RALIANCE, The Army of Survivors, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“I thank our colleagues, Representatives Frankel, Buck, Cicilline, Jayapal, Griffith, Bustos, and Owens for their leadership on this issue, I urge all Members to support the bill.”