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NDAs: 101

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NDAs: 101

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Valerie Lesser

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Following the scandal surrounding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, news outlets are now not only asking “who,” but “how?” With dozens of victims, most being women, coming forward with their stories, news outlets have been looking into how so many people could’ve been harassed for decades before their stories would see thelight of day. For many of these cases, the answer is: Non-disclosure agreements.

To understand how such documents can impact one’s career, one must have a basic understanding of non-disclosure agreements. Also known as confidentiality agreements, there are three types of NDAs: Unilateral, Bilateral, and Multilateral. The first expects that one party within a contractual agreement may disclose information while the other party is expected to keep confidential. Bilateral NDAs work in a similar fashion, but enable both parties involved to share confidential information solely with one another. Multilateral NDAs function like bilateral NDAs, with the distinction being that more than two parties can be involved.

“I think I would definitely benefit from learning about non-disclosure agreements in at least one of my classes,” stated Ricky Rodas, president of Cal State LA’s Golden Eagle Radio and senior broadcast journalism major. He continued by sharing the importance of trusting others with, or being personally trusted with, confidential information within a company. He offered a hypothetical of communicating disclosed information at a coffee shop with a friend, “[assuming] another reporter from a competing outlet is there and they hear it… I’m fired, and possibly sued as well for sharing sensitive information.”

In a digital age where information is more valuable than ever, the media is under constant scrutiny. “I feel concern when I hear about sexual assault happening in the industry I hope to work for one day,” shared Melorie Cruz, a contributing reporter for University Times. She expressed her fears of being harassed as “a woman in a workforce that assaults women,” while also agreeing on the practicality of having legal literacy such as non-disclosure agreements.

From staffers of the Weinstein Co. to victims of Weinstein’s sexual assaults, such as Rose McGowan, had been paid to sign non-disclosure agreements. In October of 2017, Variety’s Brent Lang reported that staffers of the Weinstein Company had filed to be released from their NDAs, claiming in their statement, “We did not know we were working for a serial sexual predator.”

One question that was raised by NPR’s Robert Siegel on “All Things Considered” was how far an NDA can prevent one from sharing illegal acts. To find an answer, Siegel turned to an entertainment and technology lawyer, Jonathan Handel. Handel is also a contributing editor to The Hollywood Reporter.

Handel maintained that a judge would not enforce an NDA if one were to report illegal action, taken by a party within an agreement, to the police. He continued, “…there are contexts where a court is sort of so shocked and so disgusted by an agreement that they just rip the whole thing up and voidit.” Turning to the press before the court, however, subjects one to a different kind of scrutiny. Handel noted, “…it probably would be binding if you go to the press.”

The discussion has gone beyond Hollywood as Congresswoman Jackie Speier and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the “Me Too Congress Act” in November of 2017.Considering more recent headlines, the name Stormy Daniels may also come to mind when discussing non-disclosure agreements. Daniels has become known for her affairs with Donald Trump just over a decade prior to his presidency. A lawsuit was filed with the intent of releasing Daniels from the “hush agreement.”

By mid-March, Richard Gonzales, also of NPR, reported that the Weinstein Company Holdings LLC announced their plans to end “all nondisclosure agreements that prevented victims of alleged sexual misconduct” from sharing their experiences or awareness of assault and/or harassment. These events have generated a discussion through the #MeToo movement that has enabled victims and witnesses of sexual assault and harassment to voice their experiences and concerns regarding how far is too far.

 

Val Lesser is a senior journalism student at Cal State LA. She hosted Vallie Havoc, a show on Rock and Roll for Golden Eagle Radio, and was a production manager and writer for the University Times. She currently runs Ataraxic Press (ataraxicpress.com), a blog dedicated to the local underground, DIY, and independent rock spectrum. The podcast extension of the blog, Ataraxic Press Podcast, is available on the Ataraxic Press website as well as Apple Podcasts.

The story was written for JOUR3500:Race, Class, & Gender in American Journalism

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