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Do Non-Disparagement Agreements Encourage Sexual Harassment?

Are non-disparagement agreements helping protect abusers from facing punishment for sexually harassing their co-workers? It’s a question that was raised in a CNBC report last month involving a¬†sexual harassment lawsuit¬†against AngelList, a business that assists tech companies with hiring employees and raising capital.

The incident that led to the sexual harassment suit took place during an office retreat. As part of the retreat, there were women in bikinis mingling with employees by the pool. The women in bikinis were not employees. One of AngelList’s founders and board members reportedly made inappropriate comments about the women in bikinis during the event. His comments made a female contractor attending the retreat uncomfortable, leading to the lawsuit. After the lawsuit was settled, both sides signed a non-disparagement agreement.

What’s a Non-Disparagement Agreement?

Per Business Dictionary, a non-disparagement agreement (also known as a non-disparagement clause) is generally included as part of a settlement agreement. It prevents either of the parties involved in the settlement from making comments that are critical of the other party. In the case of the AngelList lawsuit, neither party involved in the dispute is allowed to discuss details regarding the incident that led to the suit.

How Can a Non-Disparagement Agreement Encourage Sexual Harassment?

Non-disparagement agreements can prevent parties from discussing the incidents that led to sexual harassment lawsuit settlements. As such, it can enable what happened to be swept under the rug. This can result in the accusations never coming to light, allowing harassers to avoid having the incident follow them if they move on to work for other companies or with new business partners. Without that stigma attached to them and buoyed by the confidence that no one who knows their history of abuse can speak out about it, harassers can continue to sexually harass others in future.

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