The Harvey Weinstein case has called into question the justice of nondisclosure agreements, which affect people not just in Hollywood, but in Ohio as well.
A recent Los Angeles Times article delved into the issue of excessive nondisclosure agreements (NDAs).
Nondisclosure agreements in the news
The article in particular cites employers who misuse nondisclosure agreements to shield themselves from charges of sexual harassment. Besides Weinstein, the article mentions Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby and the scandals besetting the Catholic Church.
Last year Bill Cosby sued one of his accusers, claiming she had violated her NDA by talking to Pennsylvania prosecutors.
All these parties suppressed charges of sexual harassment in various ways. Many suits were settled out of court, and included nondisclosure clauses, preventing parties in the agreement from discussing the cases publicly.
The New Yorker has published a letter from Weinstein Company employees seeking to be released from certain restrictions in their signed NDAs.
Weinstein’s assistant at the London office of Miramax, his production company, violated her NDA by testifying about abuses that she herself witnessed.
Protecting the guilty
The question the Times article asks is, Do these agreements protect guilty parties allow companies and individuals to draw a veil over abusive and even criminal practices? Do they perpetuate the ability of the powerful to do unjust things?
Many people who sign NDAs have the mistaken impression that they are not allowed to say anything to anybody, including law enforcement or the courts. This is a problem for attorneys who need clients to tell the courts what they experienced. Clients quite rightfully are afraid of retaliation.
Some settlements call for the signing party to pay back more than the amount they settled for. This creates a chilling effect, allowing people like Weinstein to continue doing what they do.
Right and wrong NDAs
Our firm is not against nondisclosure agreements used by employers. They have a legitimate purpose, preventing critical trade secrets from being leaked to competitors. They also keep financial information from falling into the wrong hands. In some settlements they are used to prevent embarrassing information from becoming public and harming a company’s reputation.
Businesses should consider having their employee contracts reviewed by a knowledgeable attorney to ensure that their agreements are lawful and enforceable.