The Broad and Silencing NDAs that Permeate Congress

Katz, Marshall & Banks partner Alexis Ronickher was quoted in a Vox article, “Exclusive: Congress requires many unpaid interns to sign nondisclosure agreements.” The story analyzes two very broad nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) that Vox obtained from Capitol Hill staffers.  Many Congressional offices require interns to sign such NDAs.

Reviewing the documents, Ms. Ronickher explained, “[Interns] are going to read it and think, ‘I can’t say anything to anyone or I’m going to be sued.’”

Of the 14 Congressional offices Vox asked, five confirmed that they require interns to sign an NDA, eight didn’t respond, and one denied the use of an NDA.

While it is not surprising that offices handling sensitive information, including secrets about members of Congress or information about constituents, the NDAs that Vox acquired are far broader than the standard agreement.

“It’s pretty bizarre to include the entirety of the staff,” said Ms. Ronickher, referring a clause in one NDA that classified the disclosure of professional or personal details of the Senator or any employees of the Senator’s office as a breach of duties.

This article comes in the wake of a number of high-profile stories detailing the broken system of reporting and addressing sexual harassment in Congress, and the lack of recourse for interns who are harassed. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is writing a bill that would grant interns protections and rights currently reserved only for full-time Congressional employees.

It is critical that any employment agreement ensures that staffers and interns know their rights to report inappropriate behavior, because it is clear that NDAs are here to stay.

“It’s politics,” notes Ms. Ronickher, “and everyone is paranoid that any information could be used against them.”

Read the full story here.