February 11, 2020

Bill to stop serial sexual harassers at work advanced Monday

A bill that advocates say would reduce serial sexual harassers in the workplace passed by a 9-3 vote along party lines in the House Judiciary Committee Monday, and at least one Republican legislator worried the bill goes too far.

Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, opposed HB 21, which prohibits a private employer from enforcing a nondisclosure act when the employer settles a sexual harassment case with an employee. Nibert said he didn’t like the fact that the bill meant that the government is regulating private business, especially since the government is excluded from the bill.

But Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, who is sponsoring the bill, said Sen. Sander Rue, D-Albuquerque, is carrying a bill that would address government employers. Nibert continued to express opposition to the bill.

“Parties ought to have the right to contract and put these types of provisions in if they so choose. A person who wants to disclose those acts, they can demand that not be in there. It should be up to the parties,” Nibert said.

But Hochman-Vigil said there is a power imbalance that often occurs when employers and employees are settling a sexual harassment case. More often than not, the victim is no longer employed by the former employer and must agree to the nondisclosure agreement because of financial concerns. Signing a nondisclosure agreement can also ruin a victim’s career, said Tim White, an Albuquerque attorney advocating for the bill, because the victim cannot discuss why they sued their previous employer with a potential future employer.

“We’re asking for a light to be shined on the power imbalance. We have cases where someone loses a job. They were then forced into a nondisclosure agreement and they can’t speak about the circumstance and then can’t get a new job. It’s a miscarriage of justice,” Hochman-Vigil said.

Nibert said most cases have counsel and seemed to suggest that having an attorney present eliminated any power imbalance. But Hochman-Vigil said that in many instances, the victims do not have legal counsel.

White said the bill really protects the potential next victim.

“It’s going to stop the serial abuser,” White said.