Katz, Marshall & Banks partner Debra Katz was quoted in a Washington Post article about the role that bystanders play in cases of sexual harassment and assault. The piece, titled “After Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood assistants urged to break culture of silence,” details how the mandatory confidentiality that Hollywood assistants must keep can dissuade them from reporting heinous wrongdoings.
Industry leaders are trying to reverse this trend by telling employees to come forward and shine a light on sexual harassment and assault. Despite leaders’ pleas, there may be hesitation on behalf of witnesses not only due to power dynamics, but also because of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that are nearly ubiquitous in the industry. NDAs cannot block somebody from filing a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to Ms. Katz, but they can still make employees think twice before reporting wrongdoing. Making it clear within confidentiality agreements that reporting harassment is not a breach of contract could be a significant step toward reporting abusive behavior.
Furthermore, Ms. Katz points out that assistants who enabled Weinstein’s sexual harassment could face legal exposure. “This whole notion of an assistant delivering someone to a hotel room and clearly knowing what it was about — there’s a good argument that the individual aided and abetted the sexual assault.”
While there have been some positive steps taken following the Harvey Weinstein news, sexual harassment and assault are deeply engrained. Change needs to occur on many fronts – including removing barriers that discourage employees from reporting workplace harassment.
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