NBCUniversal Releases Employees from Sexual Harassment Non-Disclosure Agreements

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NBCUniversal Releases Employees from Sexual Harassment Non-Disclosure Agreements

What a difference a couple of years makes. The #MeToo movement started in the fall of 2017 after Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s longtime sexually predatory behavior was reported by the New York Times.  

As more women came forward with their stories of sexual predation and harassment at the hands of powerful males, more prominent men found themselves exposed, careers ended. 

One of them was Matt Lauer, the Today Show host accused of rape by a former NBC staffer during their coverage of the 2014 Sochi Olympics – just one of several allegations made against the anchor. Lauer says there was no rape and that the relationship was consensual. 

Many of these famous men had settled prior sexual harassment claims with their accusers only after the women agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements forbidding them from commenting on the case.  

Releasing Former Employees 

Now, NBCUniversal has announced it is releasing former employees from confidentiality regarding the sexual harassment aspects of such non-disclosure agreements. The network’s statement declares that any former employee who does not think they can disclose information about their sexual harassment because of signing a non-disclosure agreement should contact the company, which “will release them from that perceived obligation.” 

Catch and Kill

It is not coincidental that NBCUniversal’s announcement arrives at the same time as the publication of former NBC reporter Ronan Farrow’s new book, “Catch and Kill.” In fact, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reported the company’s employee release shortly before she interviewed Farrow on her show. 

Farrow was among the reporters breaking the Weinstein story. However, he worked at NBC at the time, and network brass refused to run the article. Instead, Farrow published the story in The New Yorker

In the book, Farrow details how the network may have passed on the Weinstein story to protect itself because it knew Lauer faced similar allegations. Farrow writes that the Lauer allegations, and the company’s widespread use of non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment settlements, were under threat of exposure from the reporting. 

According to Farrow, the company had non-disclosure agreements with at least seven women, and several of them related to Lauer. He says NBC paid settlements to Lauer’s victims for years, and he has unearthed a paper trail of documents relating to secret agreements. This was ongoing during a time when NBC denied the existence of any such settlements. 

NBC News president Noah Oppenheim lashed out at Farrow, saying the journalist was not pursuing truth but had “an axe to grind.” He says Farrow’s book contains inaccuracies, distortions, and “confused” timelines. 

However, on Maddow’s show, Farrow praised NBCUniversal’s move, calling the decision “significant” and adding it should prove a model for other companies. 

An Insufficient Move

Time’s Up is an anti-sexual harassment movement begun by Hollywood celebrities in the wake of the Weinstein revelations. Incoming president and CEO Tina Tchen says NBCUniversal’s decision regarding non-disclosure agreements does not go far enough, calling it “insufficient.” 

She wants to see NBCUniversal simply release all former employees from the non-disclosure agreements, without the burden of the former employee contacting the company. She tweeted that NBCUniversal should “announce unequivocally that [former employees] are free to speak without any fear of retaliation.”

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Steve Hochfelsen

Steve Hochfelsen is an Orange County, California business litigation lawyer and author.

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