Bill would require corporations to disclose harassment and discrimination settlements

What’s that old saying? When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

On Valentine’s Day Nevada’s first-term Democratic 3rd Congressional District Congresswoman Jacky Rosen, who happens to be running this year for Dean Heller’s Senate seat, filed a bill that would require all publicly traded companies to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission details about settlements involving sexual harassment and discrimination. It appears to be an effort to pry lose information about legal settlements like those kept secret about casino executive Steve Wynn.

The bill is titled Sunlight in Workplace Harassment Act (H.R. 5028).

Rosen and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has introduced a companion bill in the Senate, put out a press release today.

“The flood of allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful individuals has created a moral imperative for all of us to shine a spotlight on these abuses of power in the workplace,” Rosen was quoted as saying. “This is a real problem for workers in Nevada and across the country, and Congress has a responsibility to take a leading role in putting an end to workplace sexual harassment and discrimination. Requiring public companies to report these settlements will help lead to greater transparency, safer work environments, and a more robust discussion of how to prevent workplace misconduct and hold people in power accountable.”

Perhaps the legal system is just not transparent enough. Why not a bill to limit sealed settlements?

The bill would require corporations to disclose “measures taken by the covered issuer and any subsidiary, contractor, or subcontractor of the covered issuer to prevent employees of the covered issuer and any subsidiary, contractor, or subcontractor of the covered issuer from committing or engaging in sexual abuse, covered harassment, or covered discrimination.”

Contractor or subcontractor covers a lot of ground. Disclosure presumably could include: “We fired the S.O.B.”

The bill also prohibits the disclosure of the name of any victim of sexual harassment, abuse or discrimination. So much for the right to confront witnesses against you. It is silent on whether the name of a harasser, abuser or discriminator could or should be revealed or not.

Sen. Warren was quoted as saying, “Our bill will help unmask secret settlements that provide cover for the powerful to get away with abuse, harassment, and discrimination, while simultaneously protecting accusers’ privacy. Congress has a responsibility to pass it right away.”

 Meanwhile, another Wynn Resorts shareholder has filed suit agains the board of directors for failing to disclose earlier information that resulted in the decline in value of company stock. The AP story lede states: “The board of directors of Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts is facing another lawsuit from shareholders who allege they breached their fiduciary duties when they ignored what has been described as a longstanding pattern of sexual abuse and harassment by the company’s founder, Steve Wynn.”

The story quotes one of the litigants as saying, “These board directors and officers were duty-bound to protect employees and the company, yet they failed to confront allegations of predatory behavior.”

A little transparency is all that is needed.

3 comments on “Bill would require corporations to disclose harassment and discrimination settlements

  1. Steve, OEM says:

    Woman claims Steve Wynn raped her in the 1970’s.

    Next thing coming, we know, is a proposal to end the statute of limitations on rape. But only when the victim’s “chosen identity” is female.

    woo-hoo, anonymous accusers coupled with lifelong accusations….

  2. Rincon says:

    Why shouldn’t it be a level playing field? If the identity of the accuser is hidden, then the identity of the accused should be hidden as well. False accusations of harassment can be as debilitating as harassment. If the identity of a harassment victim is secret, then why should victims, witnesses, and those accused in other trials not have their identities hidden as well? Hell, let’s just make all trials secret. Seems to work in 3rd world countries.

    If a corporation has to disclose settlements, then why not sole proprietorships or partnerships – or individuals for that matter? If Settlements must be disclosed in harassment suits, then why not in negligence or malpractice suits? Quite a can of worms.

  3. Steve, OEM says:

    The proposal involves using the SEC as the enforcement tool.
    Since the SEC regulates only publicly traded companies, all the others you mention cannot fall under this proposal.
    As I see it, the biggest problem with the proposed SEC amendment is the total secrecy for accusers…this alone raises red flags all over the board. Moreover, it raises serious questions about the intentions of both Warren and Rosen. they are smart people, they both know that portion of the amendment makes it susceptible to judicial action the very first time it comes a judge.

    Assuming, of course, it survives the sausage making process and actually comes to a floor vote.

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