Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill Wednesday that makes nondisclosure agreements for harassment, retaliation or discrimination no longer a bargaining tool for employers in settlements. HB 21, a nondisclosure agreement bill, levels the playing field, according to bill sponsor Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, a Democrat from Albuquerque. When a victim of harassment, retaliation or discrimination files a lawsuit against an employer, the employer can no longer require the victim to sign a nondisclosure agreement as part of the settlement. Hochman-Vigil and other proponents of the bill said during the legislative session that more often than not the victim is no longer employed when they bring suit and are forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement as a condition for settling. That silences the victim, proponents said during the legislative session.
A bill that supporters say will prevent serial sexual harassers in the workplace passed the Senate floor 23 to 13. HB 21 will enable victims of sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination in the workplace to determine if a nondisclosure agreement should be part of a settlement with a former employer. Backers of the bill say it levels the playing field and prevents serial abuse. The bill is now headed to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign it. According to Christopher Papalco, a University of New Mexico law student, 38 percent of sexual harassment claims in New Mexico involve repeat offenders.
A bill that protects victims of sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination passed the House floor unanimously late Thursday night. The House voted 67-0 in support of HB 21, which prevents an employer from forcing a nondisclosure agreement on an employee who is settling over sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliation. Most cases never reach the courts, said Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, during the House floor discussion. Hochman-Vigil also said that more often than not the victim is no longer employed and cannot get a new job and needs to reach the settlement for financial survival. Proponents of the bill said during committee hearings that the bill really protects future potential victims and that enabling victims to speak about what happened to them can prevent serial abusers.
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.
A bill to protect victims of sexual harassment in the workplace passed easily with a 5-0 vote in the House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Tuesday. HB 21, sponsored by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, seeks to protect victims of sexual harassment in the workplace by allowing the victim to decide if she or he wants a nondisclosure agreement when the employee and employer settle. Hochman-Vigil said the bill had been amended to reflect that the bill would only apply to private employers because a different bill applies to public employers. There was no opposition to the bill. Expert witness Erika Anderson, an Albuquerque-based attorney, said most sexual harassment cases settle and that often the victim feels forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Members of the state House announced a panel will investigate sexual harassment claims against State Rep. Carl Trujillo. Three of his colleagues have already called on him to resign. The investigative subcommittee, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans from the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, will work with outside counsel and staff to investigate the allegations by Laura Bonar against the Santa Fe Democrat. Last week, Bonar said that Trujillo sexually harassed her. Trujillo responded by saying the “charges are lies” and withstood calls for him to resign.
Jon Hendry is out from his post with the union that represents film and television crews in New Mexico. Hendry resigned after a woman filed a lawsuit alleging he sexually harassed her. Another woman came forward and added her name to the lawsuit. A statement provided to media said it was a “voluntary resignation.”
He had already left his post as head of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, then on Sunday came news that he left his role in the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 480. That same day, dozens of union members attended the union’s monthly meeting, which was the first time the union met after the allegations became public.
The chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico resigned Tuesday amid criticism of his handling of recent claims of sexual harassment against a Doña Ana County Commissioner and a former New Mexico Federation of Labor president Jon Hendry. The labor organization is a key ally of Democrats in the state. Ellenberg announced his resignation with a letter to the party’s state central committee. “I regret the way in which I have managed complaints of survivors who have come forward about sexual harassment, and take full responsibility to continue to learn and grow so that I can be an advocate and ally in the future,” Ellenberg wrote. Last month, the state party’s vice chairwoman wrote a pointed letter to Ellenberg about how he dealt with her accusations of sexual harassment against former Doña Ana County Commissioner John Vasquez.
The powerful head of a major labor group in New Mexico is accused of sexual harassment. Jon Hendry, the president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, faces a lawsuit alleging he sexually harassed and employee and created a hostile and discriminatory workplace environment. Christa Valdes filed the lawsuit, accusing Hendry of grabbing employees by the buttocks, sending lewd text messages and showing naked photos on his phone. The suit also accuses IATSE Local 480, for which Hendry is the business agent, of covering up the allegations when they were brought to their attention. Valdes did public relations work for the union.
A Doña Ana County Commissioner mired in controversy over the past several weeks announced his resignation on Thursday. John Vasquez faced public criticism over social media posts and a sexual harassment allegation by a state Democratic Party leader in recent weeks. In a letter to Doña Ana County Commission chairman Benjamin Rawson, Vasquez said he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and wants to focus on his health, family and marriage. His marriage in particular, Vasquez said, suffered from what he said was a false allegation from the Democratic Party of New Mexico Vice-Chairwoman Neomi Martinez-Parra. “I am amazed and disappointed how people like Neomi Martinez-Parra can make completely unsubstantiated claims,” Vasquez wrote.