By Áine Kenny
The theatre producer and former assistant to Harvey Weinstein who became the first woman to break a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and speak out against the disgraced film producer has said that victims of abuse are being prevented from talking to loved ones or medical professionals about what has happened to them.
Zelda Perkins was speaking at the public launch of the Employment Equality (Amendment) (Non-Disclosure Agreement) Bill, an online event organised by Senator Lynn Ruane who said she hoped her bill would stop NDAs being used to cover up criminal and abusive behaviour.
Perkins her NDA forbade her from speaking to family, friends, doctors, therapists and colleagues about what she went through. “It actually precluded me from aiding the police, and any other investigation that might come about because of Harvey Weinstein’s behaviour.”
She said there has been a lot of discussion and debate, but legislation was needed to ban the practice of misusing NDAs. “This is still going on every single day... it doesn’t matter that it’s much more in the public’s awareness.
“Until the legislation is changed, until the legal regulators take a little bit more responsibility to change their guidance, the culture of using NDAs is not going to change as there’s no reason for it to change.
“How could we possibly have a legal basis for covering a crime? It’s not possible to understand that logically. It’s unethical and immoral,” she said.
Also speaking at the launch, Ifeoma Ozoma, a tech whistle-blower who exposed racial and gender discrimination at Pinterest, said it was important for Ireland to have this legislation as many tech companies, who frequently use NDAs, have international headquarters in Ireland.
She has co-sponsored a similar piece of legislation, called the Silenced No More Act, in California
“This is why the simultaneous NDA reform pushes are so important.”
She said NDAs only serve to protect the upper-level executives and managers who abuse their power, and do nothing to help victims.
Ruane’s bill aims to restrict the use of legal non-disclosure agreements in the workplace.
It will cover all NDAs in relation to the nine grounds of discrimination as set out in the Employment Equality Act: gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community.
In the bill’s current form, the legislation will be applied retrospectively, so those who signed NDAs before the bill was enacted will be covered.
“This issue came up for me a few years back, in terms of friends, colleagues, I witnessed the ordeal they went through in relation to non-disclosure agreements,” said Senator Ruane.
She also came across NDAs when she became a senator. She said that one such NDA was in relation to a university, which she declined to name.
A number of academic staff had contacted her, as they were concerned about the use of an NDA within their department. “Not only one use, but the repeated use with the same, serial offender.”
Senator Ruane started to conduct research with her staff, and she discovered the use of NDAs was quite prevalent in Ireland. “We have given a legal basis to silence victims and to protect perpetrators and their employers. That must and has to end.”
She added that often people sign NDAs when they are at a vulnerable point in their life, and many regret signing after some time passes. “The powerful know when to come in and start negotiating these NDAs.”
The Senator added that she hoped she will get political support for the bill which will move to the second stage on June 14th.