Power behind #MeToo changes legislation in California


Caleb Danielson -The State Hornet

This month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed bills to protect people from sexual harassment, sexual assault, discrimination in the work place and nondisclosure agreements.

Francina Sanchez and Jonathan Nack

Last November, the #MeToo movement took the nation by storm with high profile cases making daily headlines. This month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a few #MeToo inspired bills to protect people from sexual harassment, sexual assault, discrimination in the workplace and nondisclosure agreements.

Settlement agreements: confidentiality

Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino Hills) introduced the bill that will prohibit settlements that prevent a victim, male or female, from disclosing facts of sexual assault, sexual harassment or workplace discrimination.

Gov. Brown signed Senate Bill 820, which will allow women and men to hide their identity if they choose to when reporting sexual misconduct incidents in the workplace.

“These bills are aimed for all different workers,” said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego).  

In an opposing statement, under the last bill analysis the California Chamber of Commerce said the bill would force employers to trial to preserve their reputations. The chamber believes this will be harmful to the employee as much as it will for the employer.

Childhood sexual assault: statute of limitations

In February, Gonzalez Fletcher introduced AB 3120 to increase penalties for childhood sexual abuse and extend the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse, allowing victims more time to come forward with their experiences.

AB 3120 would redefine child sexual abuse as childhood sexual assault and include certain simulated acts.

The law currently limits victims to the age of 26 because it’s eight years from the age of legal adulthood, 18 years old. Essentially the bill would have allowed those who decide to come forward about child sexual abuse they experience up until they turned 40 years old.

Brown vetoed AB 3120, writing that he had vetoed a similar bill in the past, and that this one was “broader” and “does not fully address the inequity between state defendants and others.”

Employment: sexual harassment

Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Gonzalez Fletcher introduced bill AB 3081 in February regarding employment and sexual harassment.

AB 3081 would prohibit employers from discharging, discriminating or retaliating against an employee because of an employee’s status as a victim of sexual harassment.

It would create a 30-day period of a rebuttable presumption, or assuming the employer has acted unlawfully after learning an employee has been a victim of sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence or stalking.

Gov. Brown vetoed the bill saying the current law already contains most of the provisions in the bill and said new provisions are confusing.

Employment discrimination: enforcement

Gonzalez Fletcher introduced AB 3080 with the help of assembly members and senators as co-authors including Senator Jackson, Leyva, Mitchell, and Skinner and assembly members Bonta, Carrillo, Friedman, Gloria, Kalra, Kamlager-Dove, Levine, McCarty, Muratsuchi, Reyes, Mark Stone, and Weber.

The assembly bill would have prohibited an employer from requiring an employee to use private arbitration, or staying outside of the courts. The bill would have prevented employers from making employees sign contracts giving up their rights to sue them in court.  

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the measures in the bill would promote “consent and fairness in the waiver of important workplace rights.”

Gov. Brown referred back to his veto of a similar bill in 2015 that involved an arbitration ruling from the Supreme Court in his veto message. He wrote that he couldn’t sign the bill because it broke federal law.

“The direction from the Supreme Court since my earlier veto has been clear – states must follow the Federal Arbitration Act and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Act,” Brown wrote.

Unlawful employment practices: discrimination and harassment.

SB 1300 addresses the standard for dealing with sexual harassment claims and prohibits employers from requiring employees to sign a release of claims under Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in exchange for financial compensation, raises and as a condition of employment.

According to the bill digest, the bill removed language related to sexual harassment training from a previous assembly bill, as well as the responsibility of the employee to provide proof of the harassment or discrimination incidents.