BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo is defending the use of non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements a day after a fellow Democratic lawmaker said she was pressured into signing the agreements when she was a legislative staffer.
DeLeo said Friday the agreements are “part of doing business.”
DeLeo’s office on Thursday said since January 2010, 33 individuals working for the House were offered “a small severance payment in exchange for executing a written agreement.”
On Friday, DeLeo said he didn’t view the use of non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements as that extensive in the House, saying there had been “about 18 of them, really, that could be looked at of the 10 years that I’ve been there” referring to his tenure as speaker. He said the agreements were never used to settle claims of sexual harassment.
Democratic state Rep. Diana DiZoglio is a fierce critic of the agreements.
On Thursday during a debate on a package of changes to House procedures for dealing with instances of sexual harassment, DiZoglio described the agreements as “silencing tactics” meant to “cover up misdeeds by politicians and others.”
DiZoglio said when she was working in the Statehouse as a legislative aide in 2011, DeLeo’s office told her she would not receive a six-week severance package unless she signed a non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreement.
She said she was forced to leave her job after false rumors spread that she and a state representative had engaged in inappropriate behavior. She said her boss at the time told her she had to leave because the rumors were too much.
DeLeo said the first he had heard about the issue DiZoglio raised during Thursday’s debate was on Wednesday evening.
“If that’s what she went through then I feel very badly, if that’s what happened,” DeLeo said, adding that DiZoglio was represented by counsel at the time.
DiZoglio pressed to eliminate altogether the use of the agreements, but DeLeo said advocates advised him that those who have been victims of sexual harassment should have access to the agreements if they want.
DeLeo also said the packages of changes to the House’s sexual harassment policy, which passed unanimously Thursday, are “probably the strongest in the country and probably the most reasonable.”
The new procedures are largely aimed at protecting the confidentiality of people who have experienced sexual harassment but fear retaliation from powerful lawmakers if they come forward. One provision calls for appointment of an equal opportunity employment officer in the House to review complaints.