“The Times They Are A-Changing”: Can the Employer Affirmative Defense Survive in the #MeToo Era?

Asima J. Ahmad and Anthony B. Haller

Employers grappling with the reverberations of the #MeToo movement have been able to take some solace that, with the right policies and complaint process, they can insulate themselves against liability in sexual harassment cases where the employee does not make a complaint under the internal procedure. That insulation is possible given a well-established and objectively provable legal framework.

What we know…

Where the alleged harassment is by a coworker, if the employee/victim does not complain, there is no liability because the failure to lodge a complaint and allow the employer to investigate objectively avoids any inference of negligence. Essentially, where the employer would not otherwise know of the harassment involving coworkers, it cannot be responsible.

On the other hand, if the harassment is by a supervisor, there is no resulting tangible job action (such as demotion or termination), and the employee does not complain, the employer can assert the affirmative defense established by the Faragher-Ellerth cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Successful assertion of that defense involves the employer showing that it exercised “reasonable care” to prevent workplace harassment and discrimination and that the employee “unreasonably failed” to take advantage of the preventative or corrective opportunities that were in place. Continue reading ““The Times They Are A-Changing”: Can the Employer Affirmative Defense Survive in the #MeToo Era?”

New Jersey Governor Signs #MeToo Bill, Potentially Impacting All Employment and Settlement Agreements—Employers Beware!

Asima J. Ahmad and Kevin M. Passerini

As predicted in a previous post, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill 121 last month. This bill has two primary effects:

      1. “A provision in any employment contract [(other than a collective bargaining agreement, which is excepted)] that waives any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment” is now against public policy and unenforceable.
      2. “A provision in any employment contract or settlement agreement which has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment” is now unenforceable “against a current or former employee who is a party to the contract or settlement,” but remains enforceable against the employer unless “the employee publicly reveals sufficient details of the claim so that the employer is reasonably identifiable.”

The practical effect of these provisions is a ban on companies’ use and enforcement of nondisclosure provisions to conceal claims of discrimination, retaliation, and harassment and a ban on companies’ efforts to avoid or frustrate application of New Jersey law through, among other things, forum-selection, dispute resolution, and choice-of-law provisions. While the law does permit employers to defend themselves against an employee who publicizes information related to such claims, in order to exercise that right, “[e]very settlement agreement resolving a discrimination, retaliation, or harassment claim by an employee against an employer shall include a bold, prominently placed notice that although the parties may have agreed to keep the settlement and underlying facts confidential, such a provision in an agreement is unenforceable against the employer if the employee publicly reveals sufficient details of the claim so that the employer is reasonably identifiable.” Continue reading “New Jersey Governor Signs #MeToo Bill, Potentially Impacting All Employment and Settlement Agreements—Employers Beware!”

#TakeTheLead: California Employment Laws Boldly Go Where No Legislation Has Gone Before

Emily K. Borman

Unless you’ve been living under the Starship Enterprise, you’ve seen the laundry list of new laws recently passed by the California legislature, which went into effect this year. If you do business in the Golden State, you need a clear and concise understanding of what these new laws mean to your business. To assist, we’re rolling out a series of blog posts to spotlight some of the most far-reaching and significant California legislation to date.

Today, our focus is on #MeToo-inspired legislation, as we examine California’s newest sexual harassment laws and how they affect your business.

Now that we’ve got your attention…Warp Speed Ahead! Continue reading “#TakeTheLead: California Employment Laws Boldly Go Where No Legislation Has Gone Before”

Garden State Says #MeToo: Bill Barring Non-Disclosure Clauses Passes in Both Chambers

Asima J. Ahmad

New Jersey appears to be the next state to ban non-disclosure clauses in employment contracts or settlement agreements. On January 31, 2019, Senate Bill 121 passed the New Jersey Assembly by a 68-4-4 vote and the Senate in a 36-0 vote, sending the bill to Governor Phil Murphy’s desk.

Not Just About Non-Disclosure. The bill was introduced early last year in response to the #MeToo movement and deems unenforceable and against public policy any employment contract provision that either waives substantive or procedural rights or remedies relating to claims of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment, or has “the purpose or effect of concealing the details” of such any such claim. In effect, the bill prohibits forced arbitration of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment claims—of course, that includes sexual harassment claims. Similarly, the bill prohibits confidentiality or non-disclosure provisions from being included in employment contracts or settlement agreements involving those same types of claims. The bill does not prohibit employers from including noncompetition provisions in employment agreements, or from prohibiting the disclosure of proprietary information, which includes non-public trade secrets, business plan, and customer information. Continue reading “Garden State Says #MeToo: Bill Barring Non-Disclosure Clauses Passes in Both Chambers”

What #MeToo Means for the Maritime Sector

Susan L. Bickley, Emery Gullickson Richards, and Jeanne M. Grasso

The #MeToo movement has shone new light on issues for employers in the maritime industry seeking to ensure that seafarers and shore-based personnel can participate in a work environment free of sexual harassment and assault, both shipboard and shoreside. Employees at sea, often for months at a time, can face special challenges associated with a work environment that can be thousands of miles away from any home office, and that can lead to feelings of isolation, make communications difficult, involve close proximity between work spaces and living quarters and generally require employees to remain at the workplace during rest periods.

In other sectors of the global maritime industry, companies engaged in international business can find themselves navigating scenarios that arise from expectations regarding workplace interactions between men and women that are as diverse as their workforces. We examine here the unique legal framework that applies to sexual harassment in the maritime context, what to keep in mind for addressing incidents and recent trends regarding steps employers are currently taking in response. Continue reading “What #MeToo Means for the Maritime Sector”

New Maryland #MeToo Bill Sets Up Public Shaming and Restrictions

Asima J. Ahmad

Maryland’s legislature recently passed Senate Bill 1010 in an effort to provide victims of sexual harassment additional workplace protections. The Bill awaits the governor’s signature.

Set to be effective October 1, 2018, and titled “Disclosing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act of 2018” (the “Act”), the Act voids any provision in an employment contract, policy, or agreement that waives substantive or procedural rights or remedies relating to a sexual harassment claim that accrues in the future, or to a retaliation claim for reporting or asserting a right or remedy based on sexual harassment (unless prohibited by federal law). Any employer who enforces, or attempts to enforce, such a provision will be liable for the employee’s attorney’s fees and costs. The Act will apply to any employment contract, policy, or agreement executed, “implicitly or explicitly extended,” or renewed on or after the effective date; so, it seems to cover policies and agreements implemented prior to October 1, 2018 that continue in place after that date. Continue reading “New Maryland #MeToo Bill Sets Up Public Shaming and Restrictions”

New York Says “#MeToo” as It Enacts Strict Anti-Harassment Measures

Anna Svensson

On April 12, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a budget bill that includes significant changes in the obligations of New York employers related to sexual harassment (the “Anti-Harassment Law”). According to the Governor, the Anti-Harassment Law provides the “strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation,” as part of a hefty $168 billion budget deal for the 2019 fiscal year (which started April 1, 2018). The Anti-Harassment Law is consistent with a recent push by states and localities to expand employee protections against unlawful harassment in response to the #MeToo movement.

The Anti-Harassment Law includes both immediate and ongoing implications. Here are some of the highlights: Continue reading “New York Says “#MeToo” as It Enacts Strict Anti-Harassment Measures”