THE MASSACHUSETTS SENATE on Thursday approved an amendment to an economic development bill that would ban taxpayer-funded non-disclosure agreements across state government.
“This is a huge win for employees to help prevent harassment, discrimination, and abuse, and a big win for transparency and accountability,” tweeted Sen. Diana DiZoglio of Methuen, who sponsored the amendment.
The win may be short-lived unless the House, which did not include a similar provision in its version of the economic development bill, decides to accept the Senate provision when the two bills go to a conference committee of the two branches to resolve differences. The two branches have been at odds on this issue in the past. In January 2019 the Senate, at the prodding of DiZoglio, voted to change its rules to ban non-disclosure agreements by that chamber; at the same time, the House voted to retain non-disclosure agreements but only if requested by the victim or survivor of sexual assault.
Non-disclosure agreements are typically used as part of a settlement or severance package. The agreements ban the parties to the arrangement from talking about the matter publicly.
DiZoglio has personal experience with the agreements. In 2011, when she was a legislative aide, rumors swirled around a late-night meeting between her and a lawmaker in the House chamber. She was cleared of any wrongdoing, but her boss, then-Rep. Paul Adams, fired her, and she became the target of gossip and rumors. She said she felt pressure to accept a severance package on condition she sign a non-disclosure agreement, an agreement she violated when she became a state representative herself and began pushing for an end to the agreements using her personal experience to make the case.
DiZoglio’s amendment, which passed 38-1, would bar all state government entities, including the executive branch, the Legislature, and the judiciary, from making non-disclosure or non-disparagement a condition of a settlement. Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton was the sole no vote on the amendment.
The amendment did contain a provision that may make it more acceptable to the House. The amendment bars nondisclosure or non-disparagement agreements with employees or students but does allow settlements to include, “at the request of the employee or student, a provision that prevents the governmental entity from disclosing the individual’s identity and all facts that could lead to the discovery of the individual’s identity.”
Gov. Charlie Baker said last year he thought nondisclosure agreements should not be allowed unless they are sought by the victim. “I do believe victims should be allowed to have the opportunity to seek an NDA if they think that’s in their best interests,” he said.