Sacramento’s #MeToo moment Tuesday, July 31, 2018
The Me Too Movement was founded in 2006, but it took the nation by storm in October 2017 as women began coming forward with numerous sexual harassment, assault, and rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood titan, as well as politicians, CEOs and other powerful executives. The #MeToo campaign went viral and provided a platform for many women to their personal stories – and hold those they accused to account. The sheer volume and scope of the campaign proved it was a force to be reckoned with.
The momentum of the #MeToo Movement prompted many women lobbyists, staffers and even some lawmakers in Sacramento to speak out about their own awful experiences with harassment, abuse and assault. An open letter, signed by nearly 150 women who work in or around the statehouse, was posted online. It detailed the pressure-cooker culture of California’s Capitol, explaining the barriers that made it extremely difficult for women to speak up without fear of repercussions. A website, “We Said Enough,” was created by the signers to provide a public platform for women to share their stories.
California lawmakers soon joined the scrum. Several bills are now working their way through the Legislature with the intention of creating further protections for victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other like claims.
Senate Bill 820 by state Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino), also called the STAND (Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures) Act, would prohibit secret confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements in cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault and sex discrimination. This bill would allow for the claimant to request confidentiality if so desired. This bill would gives the victims the control to decide whether they want to remain confidential, instead of that decision remaining in the hands of the perpetrator. A major goal of the bill is to prevent serial predators by stripping them of the cover that allowed their behavior to continue unabated sometimes for decades. The California Women’s Law Center is co-sponsoring the bill along with Consumer Attorneys of California.
Another bill that shifts the balance for workers victimized by sexual harassment is Assembly Bill 3080. Authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), AB 3080 will eliminate mandatory arbitration clauses as a condition of employment. Today, many employers require their employees to sign an arbitration agreement, thus stripping workers of their rights to turn to the courts if they suffer harassment or other workplace problems. This bill will ensure that workers are able to exercise their right to a day in court for harassment, discrimination and labor claims. It will also prevent employer retaliation if an employee does not sign such an agreement.
Assembly Bill 1870, authored by Assemblymembers Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-Grand Terrace), Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), and Marie Waldron (R-Escondido), is referred to as the SHARE Act, their shorthand for Stopping Harassment and Reporting Extension Act. This bill increases the time a victim has to file a harassment or discrimination claim under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) from one year to three. This time extension would help eliminate common practical and psychological barriers, such as emotional trauma after suffering harassment at the hands of a boss, that often prevent victims from seeking redress in a timely manner. AB 1870 takes a step in helping victims by giving them more time to determine the best course of action after an incident occurs.
Assemblymember Reyes also is pushing Assembly Bill 1867, a bill that would require California businesses with 50 or more employees to retain records of sexual harassment complaints by employees for 10 years. With this new requirement, it will be easier to detect repeat offenders. These records will also be supporting evidence for an employee to prove their employer was made aware of issues occurring in the workplace.
Senate Bill 1300 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) allows an employee to bring action against an employer if a boss fails to take the necessary steps to prevent sexual harassment or discrimination prior to the behavior reaching “severe and pervasive.” The bill would not prohibit the defendant employer from being awarded fees and costs unless the court finds the harassment claim to be either frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation. Finally, this bill implements improvements for sexual harassment training. These improvements include requiring all employers to provide training to all workers. Currently, training is only required in settings with 50 or more employees, and only supervisory employees are required to undergo training. Additionally, bystander intervention training must be included.
Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has also proposed sexual harassment training requirements in Senate Bill 1343. Similar to SB 1300, this bill also reduces the number of employees from 50 to just five for an employer to be required to provide harassment training, as well as requiring training for all employees, not just supervisors. Another key component of this bill states the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) to create an interactive online training course available on its website along with an information sheet describing sexual harassment and different remedies.
Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-Marin County) also imposes new sexual harassment training requirements, this time specifically on the modeling and entertainment industry. Under Assembly Bill 2338, agencies will be required to provide training on sexual harassment prevention, retaliation, nutrition, and eating disorders to their employees or artists. If an employee or artist is a minor, then the parent or legal guardian will receive the training in addition to the minor.
Assembly Bill 3081 by Assemblymember Gonzalez Fletcher also adds training requirements and a notice from employers that must include the definition and descriptions of sexual harassment, as well as the manner of making complaints and seeking remedies. There are two other key aspects of this bill. First, employees will be able to take time off to support a family member if that family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking without risking discrimination or retaliation from their employer. It also creates a rebuttable presumption of unlawful retaliation if an employee faces any adverse actions within 90 days of filing a claim. Finally, this bill extends time to file a claim for unlawful discharge, discrimination, or retaliation with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) from one year to three years.
Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) is the author of Assembly Bill 3109. This bill renders unenforceable any provision in a contract or settlement agreement that prevents a person from testifying, in response to a court order, subpoena or official request, about alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment in a judicial, administrative, or legislative proceeding.
Senate Bill 954, authored by Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), requires attorneys to provide their client with a disclosure form explaining the confidentiality governing mediation. The client must then acknowledge, in writing, that they have read and understand the confidentiality restrictions in place. The form an attorney provides can be admissible evidence in attorney disciplinary proceedings.
Senate Bill 224, by Sen. Holly Mitchell, takes steps to expand the types of other professional relationships where a person may be liable in a civil cause of action for sexual harassment to explicitly include “elected officials, lobbyist, investor, director and producer.” This bill also removes the current requirement that an individual who brings a cause of action for sexual harassment would need to demonstrate that the relationship would not be easy to terminate, thus aiding the victim seeking justice. Finally, this bill extends individual liability in cases where a business, professional or service relationship has been offered but not yet began.
Sen. Connie Leyva also extends individual liability with Senate Bill 1038. This bill states that an employee may be personally liable for retaliation so long as the employee who committed the retaliation also committed the underlying act of harassment. Under current law, just the employer is liable under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.
The proposed bills will help restore rights and power to victims of sexual crimes. They are also a step in the right direction by holding employers and individual perpetrators accountable for their actions.
— Chloe Fisher