Dec. 26, 2018 By Meghan Sackman
Assemblymember Aravella Simotas is continuing to make significant strides toward fighting sexual harassment, with the lawmaker set to introduce six bills in the new legislative session aimed at aiding and protecting victims.
Simotas, who will introduce the package of bills next month, says the proposed legislation will help victims seek justice and recompense, and allow them to speak out about their experiences.
The bills, according to Simotas, will immediately see support in the legislature, with State Senator-elect Allesandra Biaggi already agreeing to sponsor the package.
One of the bills to be introduced would require that any party entering a confidentiality agreement first be given a waiver explaining the agreement and the rights they would be giving up as part of it.
The bill is meant to help those who have been subjected to sexual harassment make more informed choices in settlement negotiations.
The bill would also deem a confidentiality agreement void if it prevented the victim from filing an official complaint, participating in an investigation, or from receiving public benefits.
Another bill in the package would require employers to inform employees that non-disclosure agreements in contracts do not prevent them from speaking to law enforcement, among other agencies.
“This legislation would stop the misuse of non-disclosure agreements as a weapon to silence whistleblowers and targets of sexual harassment or other workplace wrongdoing,” Simotas said.
A third bill would extend the time to file a sexual harassment or discrimination complaint within the state’s Human Rights Division from one year to three years.
This bill would also give state and legislative employees up to six months to file notice of intention to sue for unlawful discrimination in the Court of Claims—an extension from the original 90 days is some circumstances.
The statute of limitations clock, additionally, will be stopped under the bill during the course of any investigation or proceeding related to the claim.
“When the window of opportunity to file a sexual harassment claim slams shut before a person can even process what’s happened to them, that is justice denied and an additional form of abuse on top of what they’ve already experienced,” Simotas said.
A fourth bill would require that all state employees complete bystander intervention training every year in an approach that Simotas says has been used by the military and on college campuses to prevent sexual harassment.
Another bill would mandate that sexual harassment and assault settlements be disclosed to the state Attorney General, with the office to investigate any defendant that has racked up three of such agreement.
The last bill of the package requires that any sexual harassment, assault, or discrimination victim be entitled to extra, separate compensation if they agree to a confidentiality clause in a settlement. This bill, Simotas says, will create a more just process and prevent perpetrators from forcing their targets into silence.
The sweeping package comes as Governor Andrew Cuomo has recently signed Simotas’ legislation to give sexual assault survivors a bill of rights, which passed the legislature in the summer.
The new law provides sexual assault victims with a list of their rights before they undergo a forensic physical exam or are interviewed by law enforcement.
The bill also builds on Simotas’ legislation adopted in the 2018-2019 state budget that requires rape kits be retained for 20 years as opposed to 30 days, in an effort to give sexual assault survivors more time to come forward and seek justice.
The six-bill package, Simotas said, was drafted with the Sexual Harassment Working Group–made of women who have faced consequences after reporting discrimination, harassment and abuse in Albany–in mind.