February 27, 2018

Warren, Rosen Unveil Bicameral Legislation to End Secrecy in Workplace Harassment Settlements

Secret Settlements Only Perpetuate Harassment

Bill Text | One-Pager

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) today introduced the Sunlight in Workplace Harassment Act, which would require publicly-traded companies to disclose workplace harassment and discrimination settlements. In recent months, reports of high-profile sexual harassment and abuse settlement cases involving corporate executives, along with other sexual harassment allegations, have sparked a national conversation on workplace harassment - including discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and other anti-discrimination laws.

"We are in a moment in American history where people are coming together to say enough. But there won't be real change until harassment in all corners of the country is exposed and the harassers are held accountable," said Senator Warren. "Our bill will help unmask secret settlements that provide cover for the powerful to get away with abuse, harassment, and discrimination, while simultaneously protecting accusers' privacy. Congress has a responsibility to pass it right away."

"The flood of allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful individuals has created a moral imperative for all of us to shine a spotlight on these abuses of power in the workplace," said Representative Jacky Rosen. "This is a real problem for workers in Nevada and across the country, and Congress has a responsibility to take a leading role in putting an end to workplace sexual harassment and discrimination. Requiring public companies to report these settlements will help lead to greater transparency, safer work environments, and a more robust discussion of how to prevent workplace misconduct and hold people in power accountable."

In the case of publicly traded companies, secret settlements also pose a material risk to investors. Some investors argue that the way companies treat their workers-including the company's response to harassment allegations-is critical to a company's financial success or failure. Investors deserve to know the amount of money that companies spend on settlements related to discriminatory behavior.

The Sunlight in Workplace Harassment Act would:

  • Require public companies to disclose the total number and aggregate dollar amount of disputes settled by the company related to sexual abuse or harassment or discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, service member status, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
  • Require public companies to disclose the average length of time it takes to resolve harassment complaints, as well as the total number of pending harassment complaints the company is seeking to resolve through internal processes or through litigation.
  • Prohibit the SEC from disclosing the names of accusers and provide accusers with the option of limiting the extent to which details of their settlements are disclosed to the public. 
  • Require public companies to disclose information on their efforts to prevent the perpetration of harassment, discrimination, and abuse by their employees.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). It's endorsed by the National Organization for Women (NOW), Feminist Majority, Public Citizen, The Arc of the United States, Human Rights Campaign, Illinois State Treasurer Michael W. Frerichs, and New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.