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Kennedy: Stop Silencing Victims

by Minden Press-Herald

This should be no country – or state – for creepy old men.

That’s why I’m sponsoring legislation to stop the ugly practice of allowing public employees to hide behind nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs, when public money is used to settle sexual harassment allegations against them.  The bill is called the Stop Silencing Victims Act.

It’s time to stop protecting predators in federal, state and local governments.

You don’t have to look very far for an example of why my bill is needed.  Just two years ago, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ deputy chief of staff, Johnny Anderson, resigned amid allegations that he groped an employee during a job interview, asked her to send him photos of herself naked and forced her to perform oral sex on him.  A settlement agreement prohibited the parties involved, including the victim, from making “disparaging remarks” about one another.

That’s right.  The victim isn’t supposed to talk about what allegedly happened to her.  She isn’t even allowed to warn other women. Despite the settlement agreement, the victim spoke up anyway.  Mr. Anderson’s attorney promptly scolded her and publicly speculated on whether she might be sued.

This wasn’t the first time Mr. Anderson found himself at the wrong end of a sexual harassment allegation.  In fact, it wasn’t the first time taxpayers paid to settle sexual harassment allegations against him.

Gov. Edwards acknowledged that he knew about the prior allegations against Mr. Anderson.  He hired him anyway because he believed Mr. Anderson when he said the allegations were untrue.  I doubt the governor warned the women on his staff about what supposedly happened in the past. Those women were treated like lambs led to the slaughter.

Nondisclosure agreements create a dangerous environment in which nasty allegations are hidden from the public.  They clear the path for predators to find future victims. In the era of the #metoo movement, that’s unacceptable.  We’re discovering that sexual harassment is more pervasive than we ever thought.

In seven years, the legal expenses connected to sexual harassment claims cost the state of Louisiana $5 million.  The alleged harassment occurred on college campuses and within state agencies.

Millions more taxpayer dollars have been spent to settle discrimination claims at the federal level.  If that surprises you, well, it should. That money is paid in secret with ironclad nondisclosure agreements drafted to protect the accused.

It took several years for sexual harassment complaints to surface about former Congressman John Conyers even though taxpayers spent $27,000 to silence a former staffer who claimed that Conyers groped her and propositioned her for sex.  That $27,000 payment came wrapped up in a nondisclosure agreement.

My bill makes it clear that you lose the right to keep things quiet if you’re a public employee who settles a sexual harassment lawsuit with public money.  Nondisclosure agreements silence the victims and they cover up disgusting behavior. This is no country for creepy old men.

John Kennedy is a U.S. Senator serving Louisiana.

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