Most taxpayers probably have no clue that state officials make secret settlements, called nondisclosure agreements or NDAs, to dispose of disagreements or terminations in the workplace.
State Sen. Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat, and Rep. Alyson Sullivan, a Republican from Abington, this week called on the state auditor to produce a report on how many NDAs exist statewide in government, which agencies are involved, and how much public money has been spent on those agreements.
DiZoglio signed an NDA “under duress” in 2011, when she was an aide on Beacon Hill and discredited rumors about inappropriate behavior prompted her boss, then-Rep. Paul Adams, to force her out. She needed her six weeks of severance to pay her bills, but she found out on her way out the door that Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office wouldn’t release that pay unless she signed the agreement. She went public in 2018, after she was elected to the House, to make her case in support of banning nondisclosure agreements in the Legislature.
Ultimately, the House unanimously adopted a package of new rules recommended by the House counsel and a team of attorneys hired to study the House’s policies around workplace sexual harassment. The new rules included a new investigation process for harassment claims and called for new human resources employees.
In speaking up again this week, DiZoglio and Sullivan said they know NDAs are still being used to hide the circumstances behind an employee’s departure from a job on Beacon Hill as well as other state departments and agencies.
“We know they’re still being used at the Statehouse, but how prevalent are these publicly funded nondisclosure agreements statewide?” DiZoglio said at a press conference. “The public has a right to know.”
For his part, Gov. Charlie Baker recently said nondisclosure agreements would only be used if a victim requested one. State Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office said the demand of a comprehensive report “is not feasible” because it would entail a review of the full personnel files of all public employees “who have signed NDAs in order to determine which ones were used in a case of sexual harassment as opposed to other on-the-job disputes or grievances.”
That implies there are an awful lot of these secret agreements.
Based on what DiZoglio and Sullivan are saying, compilation of that data is exactly the point. They’re not asking for names of the employees who signed NDAs or personal details of the circumstances of each one but rather a list, by department and agency, of how many of these agreements exist and how much public money has been paid out to implement them.
DiZoglio filed legislation to prevent public money being used for employment agreements that contain NDAs, something both U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan and Ayanna Pressley came out in support of on Monday.
Curiously, Sullivan voted against banning NDAs during a House rules debate in January, according to State House News Service. But she said this week she changed her position after DiZoglio convinced her “that we can accomplish confidentiality without silencing victims of sexual harassment.”
The request for a full audit of the number, location and dollar amount of every nondisclosure agreement signed in state government should be something lawmakers and taxpayers support. A greater question exists, however. DeLeo’s office has said 33 NDAs have been signed in the House since 2010. The auditor’s office says compiling a report would be onerous because it would entail so much work reviewing so many files.
How many of these secret agreements are there and why do they exist at all, unless each victim has requested secrecy? We will never know unless the auditor’s office will pick up the ball and run with it.