In recent months, Silicon Valley has been rocked with accusations of rampant sexual harassment and a culture of misogyny. While at the moment many tech companies are saying the right things in regard to the brave women who have stepped forward, behind the scenes there might be a different attitude altogether.
A report in the Mercury News outlines how tech companies in Silicon Valley may be using non-disparagement clauses to prevent employees from speaking out negatively about the company for which they work. Women are already reluctant to speak out for fear of retaliation, and these non-disparagement clauses could make it even more difficult for them to do so.
Non-disparagement clauses are often signed as an employee is on their way out the door, or after they report or are a witness to inappropriate behavior in the workplace, including sexual harassment. In some cases, these clauses may be required at the beginning of employment. Luckily, while these clauses are quite common, they can’t stop someone from bringing harassment (or other issues) to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if there is a subpoena. Unfortunately, it doesn’t often get that far since women are prevented from speaking out in the first place. The clauses in theory are to protect both parties. For one, they can shield an employee from being black-balled by other employment opportunities since their previous employer cannot say negative things about them. On the other hand, they can save a company embarrassment or public relations issue, which can have the effect of covering up heinous acts.
Often times, when there is a report of sexual harassment or other misconduct, the company will ask the employee involved to forego their right to sue. The alternative is to use private arbitration to settle the claims, where the details and results of the incident will never see the light of day. What this means, is that while the culture of harassment in Silicon Valley seems to have been exposed over the past year, it may just be a drop in the bucket.
Recently, high-level executives at several large firms, such as Uber, 500 Startups, and Binary capitals have been terminated from their positions over sexual harassment charges. As more incidents come to light, it’s become apparent that a culture of misogyny has festered in Silicon Valley for quite some time. The belief is that this is starting to change, however, the concern is that with the chilling effect these non-disparagement clauses have, change may be slow in coming. According to a survey in 2015 called The Elephant in the Valley, a full two-thirds of women who worked in the industry reported being sexually harassed, and 29% of them had non-disparagement clauses and did not speak out.
If you have been a victim of sexual harassment in San Jose or any other part of Silicon Valley, contact a lawyer who specializes in harassment claims to look at your case. That may be your best bet at striking back against the culture of harassment in The Valley.