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.