ENDING the SILENCE: Advocates Take Aim at Non-Disclosure Pacts That Protect Sexual Harassers.

AuthorJohnson, Sharon

Zelda Perkins was a good employee who followed the rules--including the one that directed her to keep quiet about being sexually harassed.

But in October 2017, Perkins decided to speak publicly about the sexual harassment she had endured for years as Harvey Weinstein's assistant at Miramax Films in London, in violation of the non-disclosure agreement she had signed.

Perkins said the film producer did not respect ordinary office boundaries and had walked around naked or in his underwear. She and a colleague left the company after the colleague reported that Weinstein had attempted to rape her at the 1998 Venice Film Festival. Weinstein has denied these allegations--along with of those of more than eighty other women spanning a period of three decades.

Now Perkins is doing what she can to make non-disclosure agreements a thing of the past. "Unless somebody does this," she told the Financial Times, "there won't be a debate about how egregious these agreements are and the amount of duress that victims are put under."

In March, Perkins urged a committee of the British Parliament to enact legislation that would prohibit non-disclosure agreements like hers. As she said to the Financial Times, "I want to call into question the legitimacy of agreements where the inequality of power is so stark and relies on money rather than morality."

Perkins signed the agreement after three days of intense negotiations with Weinstein's lawyers, when her own lawyers advised her that it was her only realistic option. The agreement prohibited the women from discussing their experiences with friends, colleagues, and family as well as physicians, therapists, and other medical professionals unless these people also signed non-disclosure agreements.

If requested to provide testimony in a criminal investigation of Weinstein, the agreement required the women to use "reasonable endeavors to limit the scope of any disclosure."

Although each woman received a total of [pounds sterling]125,000 (about $165,000), the money was never the main objective, Perkins told British lawmakers. The deal called on Weinstein to complete therapy and the company to set up a structure within its human resources department to enable employees to report inappropriate behavior. But, as Perkins stated in written testimony to the committee, Weinstein and Miramax "ignored the terms of the agreement."

Since the #MeToo movement exposed the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace, advocates for women's rights and workplace safety are turning their attention to employment policies and practices, prominently including non-disclosure agreements.

"Since 1991, when Anita Hill testified about her...

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