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New California Laws Ban Secret Settlements, Protect Victims in Sexual Harassment Cases

Closeup portrait of young woman with #metoo tape strapped and frightened

California lawmakers have been responding to the #MeToo movement with a fervor, drawing up and passing numerous laws intended to protect employees in the workplace. Governor Jerry Brown just signed several bills that limit employers’ ability to sweep sexual harassment instances under the rug and otherwise expand the rights of victims of harassment. Continue reading for details about the latest bills banning secret settlements for sexual harassment, and contact an experienced Southern California sexual harassment lawyer if you have been the victim of harassment or discrimination on the job.

Senate Bill 820: No more secret settlements and non-disclosure agreements

SB 820, effective January 1, 2019, bans provisions in settlement agreements that prevent the parties from discussing the facts of the case. The bill is aimed at the long-standing practice of paying off victims of sexual harassment to avoid the scandal, requiring them to keep quiet during and after the lawsuit. The law allows for the victim to keep their own identity private if they wish, but prohibits the employer from keeping confidential either the perpetrator of the harassment or the conduct that led to the suit.

Senate Bill 1300: No mandatory releases of liability

SB 1300 prohibits employers from requiring that employees sign agreements that limit their ability to officially complain about or sue based on claims of sexual harassment in the workplace. Some employers require employees to sign such agreements as a condition of new or continued employment, or as a condition for a bonus or raise; this law aims to end that practice.

Additional bills expanding rights of victims, training requirements

Assembly Bill 1619 sets a much longer statute of limitations for sexual assault than other civil claims, allowing victims to bring suit for up to 10 years after the last act of assault or violence. SB 419 prevents the California legislature from retaliating against an employee or lobbyist for filing a harassment complaint, and requires the legislature to keep a record of all harassment complaints filed for at least 12 years. SB 1343 expands an existing requirement for workplace sexual harassment training to now encompass most California employers. AB 2055 adds information about California’s sexual harassment policies to ethics training materials for lobbyists.

Gov. Brown vetoes bill that would have banned arbitration agreements

Gov. Brown did not sign all of the bills before him this session. He chose to veto, for the second time, a bill that would have prohibited employers from requiring workers to sign arbitration agreements preventing them from suing for sexual harassment in a court of law. Brown vetoed AB 3080, just as he vetoed AB 465 in 2015 which included similar provisions, claiming that the bill violated federal law based on recent Supreme Court decisions strongly protecting arbitration agreements. While SB 1300, discussed above, prevents employers from limiting harassment liability entirely, California employers are still free to require arbitration in cases of harassment.

If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace in San Bernardino or Los Angeles County and want to know your options, contact the compassionate and effective Rancho Cucamonga sexual harassment attorney John D. Lueck for a free consultation at 909-484-1963.

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