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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Wednesday signed legislation that will make it more difficult for employers to require their employees to keep quiet about sexual harassment in the workplace, a first-of-its-kind approach in the wake of the "Me Too" movement.
One of the bills Inslee signed would prohibit employers from requiring nondisclosure agreements that would stop individuals from speaking out about sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.
Another will prevent nondisclosure agreements from barring employee testimony in civil lawsuits relating to assault or harassment claims. That bill also allows those bringing the suits to conduct discovery on previous harassment claims.
Inslee also signed a new law voiding employment contracts and arbitration agreements that preclude an employee from filing assault or harassment complaints outside their companies.
“We know we are in the midst of an enormously disruptive, transformative and positive point in time,” Inslee said during a bill-signing ceremony in Olympia. “The national 'Me Too' movement has sparked conversations in every corner of our country and is bringing to light how inadequate our laws, rules and culture are when it comes to sexual harassment and assault.”
The widespread use of nondisclosure agreements as a part of sexual harassment settlements has come under scrutiny in recent months, after revelations that several women were asked to sign them after settling claims against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Earlier this week, Weinstein’s former company nullified nondisclosure agreements that were still in place. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), who called on the company to void the agreements, called it a “watershed moment.”
State legislatures across the country have reeled in recent months under allegations that legislators harassed or assaulted staff, lobbyists and even colleagues. More than a dozen legislators have resigned their seats, and two have been expelled, after investigations found credible evidence of harassment.
In Washington, more than 170 women working in the capital signed a letter castigating what they called a culture of pervasive harassment. Several legislators have been accused of harassing behavior, including state Rep. David Sawyer (D), whom eight women have accused of harassing them.
Washington legislators have been struggling with ways to change the culture in Olympia. In an interview in December, state Rep. Roger Goodman (D) said some of his colleagues would be asked to quit their seats.
“Some of our members who have a history of this are being pressured to resign,” Goodman said. “Some of our members have had to adjust. And I think it’s refreshing.”
Several state legislatures have implemented significant reforms and new rules in the wake of harassment claims. California’s legislature has established a bipartisan, bicameral committee to hear testimony about improper behavior in Sacramento, and Arizona legislators are no longer allowed to consume alcohol in the capitol after a state senator was expelled earlier this year.
State legislators in Wisconsin, Tennessee and Illinois are now required to undergo harassment training on an annual basis.