California employees who experience harassment or discrimination are getting stronger protections after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the “Silenced No More Act” on Thursday.
Starting in 2022, SB 331 will make it easier for workers to speak out about racism and other forms of harassment and abuse in the workplace even if they sign non-disclosure agreements. The new law also expands a ban on broad confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses that workers have to sign.
“The California State Legislature and Governor Newsom have now spoken: California workers should absolutely be able to speak out — if they so wish — when they are a victim of any type of harassment or discrimination in the workplace,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, in a statement.
SB 331 builds on another bill Leyva wrote that became law in 2018, the Stand Against Non-Disclosures (STAND) Act, which in response to the “Me Too” movement allowed those who experienced sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination to speak up.
The signing of the bill is also a victory for bill co-sponsor Ifeoma Ozoma, a public policy manager who left Pinterest Inc.
last year after accusing the company of gender and racial discrimination. She and another Pinterest employee, Aerica Shimizu Banks, were protected by the STAND Act when they spoke up about their allegations of gender discrimination at the company, with which they eventually agreed to settlements. However, as Black women, they were technically not protected under law for speaking out about their race-related allegations.
“I’m just so proud,” Ozoma told MarketWatch Thursday night. “Turning years of pain into change for 40 million people. It’s so epic I don’t have the words.”
Pinterest, which did not comment publicly on the allegations by the two women, later settled a $20 million gender-discrimination lawsuit by its former chief operating officer, which included $2.5 million for the company to use toward advancing women and minorities in its workplace. The company later said it supported SB 331 and would no longer require employees to sign NDAs prohibiting them from talking about their personal experiences after they leave.
NDAs are common in the tech industry, which has had its share of high-profile race-related and sexual-harassment controversies in the past few years. Ozoma, who also is a former employee of Facebook Inc.
has said she had to sign NDAs at those companies. One question now is whether California-based tech companies will extend the new protections to their employees around the country.