The Attorney General will receive increased power to investigate and enforce Massachusetts’ sexual harassment and discrimination laws, and clouds of secrecy will be lifted in cases involving serial harassers, if identical bills filed by Representative Kenneth Gordon (D-Bedford) and Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton) are passed.
Co-sponsored by 43 fellow Senators and Representatives, HD4496 and SD2493 will give the AG pre-suit subpoena power and investigative authority in sexual harassment and discrimination suits. The AG currently has such authority in the areas of consumer and financial fraud. It also requires the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”) to alert the AG each time it issues a probable cause finding against an alleged harasser two or more times in five years, or three or more times in seven years. Once the notice is forwarded to the AG, each probable cause finding will become available as a public record with the victims’ names removed.
“The #metoo movement has empowered women throughout the country to take a stand and say #nomore,” said Senator Creem. “As more and more women are coming forward, it’s become increasingly clear that we need better tools to fight sexual harassment and protect people from recidivist offenders. While confidentiality agreements can often benefit both parties, they should not be used to shield serial offender. ”
“Many of us want to get to the bottom of allegations involving multiple instances of harassment. We are frustrated by confidential settlements that prevent victims from telling their story,” said Gordon. “However, victims often rely on these agreements as a tool to resolve their claims short of a public trial and we don’t want to interfere with their ability to address the emotional and financial harm they have suffered.These bills propose a way to figure out how to discover who is engaged in serial harassment without upsetting the rights of victims to resolve their cases”.
“The MCAD does a good job handling matters involving one-time harassment and discrimination cases, and this bill leaves those cases alone. However, if the MCAD credits more than one charge against an alleged harasser in the relevant window of time, the findings will be made available to the public. That means that after even one credited allegation the accused person has to be wary of any future allegation, since a public record will be created. That record will follow the alleged harasser, as it will be subject to review by any future victim, and available for any future job interview.”
The bill proposes its relief as an amendment to Chapter 151B, which affects all employers except religious entities. It would take effect upon passage, affecting only future complaints.