Under pressure, Michael Bloomberg faces a new court challenge to his company's use of non-disclosure agreements in discrimination cases
- A former Bloomberg LP employee who allegedly experienced discrimination at the company asked a New York Supreme Court judge last month to invalidate not just her non-disclosure agreement, but the NDAs of any "similarly situated" Bloomberg LP employees.
- The lawsuit comes as Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor running for president, faces mounting pressure over his company's use of non-disclosure agreements to bar those with grievances about his company from speaking out.
- A November investigation by Business Insider found that Bloomberg LP has repeatedly been described as a sexualized, predatory environment in harassment and discrimination complaints from several women going back two decades.
- A spokesperson for the Bloomberg campaign declined to comment on whether, in light of his presidential run, the company and the candidate will release employees with whom they have entered into non-disclosure agreements from their obligations to remain silent.
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A former Bloomberg LP employee is asking a judge to invalidate any non-disclosure agreements that the company, which was founded by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, used in settling sex, age, and disability discrimination complaints brought by its employees.The request comes from Laurie Evans, a 56-year-old who worked on Bloomberg LP's sales team for six years before being fired in November 2016 while being treated for breast cancer. Evans claims in court filings that Bloomberg LP has a "culture of discrimination" and that her former supervisor, then-chief revenue officer Keith Grossman, created a hostile work environment that adversely impacted her job performance and caused extreme emotional and psychological distress. Grossman is now the president of Time USA LLC, the publisher of Time magazine.Advertisement
A Time spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
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Evans first sued Bloomberg LP in October 2019. In December, her attorney Donna Clancy filed an amended complaint asking the court to void not just the confidentiality provision included in Evans' separation agreement, but also the nondisclosure agreements of any "similarly situated members of her protected classes" who may have claims against Bloomberg LP. The complaint accuses Bloomberg LP of fraudulently coercing employees to sign agreements that were vague, misleading, filled with misstatements and omissions, and written in a manner that an average employee would find difficult to understand.
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This latest effort to void Bloomberg employees' non-disclosure agreements comes as Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who recently announced his presidential bid, faces mounting pressure over his use of these agreements to bar those with grievances about his company from speaking out. In late November, Business Insider revealed a string of lawsuits spanning decades alleging misconduct and a toxic workplace at Bloomberg LP, including two allegations of rape by senior Bloomberg LP managers 20 years apart.
In total, Business Insider found, nearly 40 employment lawsuits from 65 plaintiffs have been filed against Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg personally in state and federal courts since 1996. The majority of those allege discrimination over gender, race, and disability status, as well as pregnancy discrimination and wage theft. Eight discrimination suits were launched after Bloomberg returned to his namesake company as president and CEO in 2014.
Last month, after ABC News followed up with its own story on the Bloomberg lawsuits, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called on Bloomberg to release women from any nondisclosure agreements they may have signed with the company. The group Lift Our Voices, formed by three former Fox News employees to end the practice of mandatory non-disclosure agreements to conceal workplace misconduct, also sent letters to all of the presidential campaigns urging them to publicly condemn these types of agreements in the context of workplace issues, such as sexual misconduct and a toxic work culture.
AP Photo/John Minchillo
"Employees, and particularly female employees who are aware of discrimination in the workplace, if they become aware of it or become a victim of it, they are afraid to complain, to lose their job, to be retaliated against, to not be believed - and therefore they are silenced," Clancy told Business Insider. "When they are silenced, it breeds a culture. When you have a culture then and no one complains about it and it can be swept under the rug and managed internally, it gets worse and nothing gets better."
According to court records, the agreement Evans signed with Bloomberg LP in 2016 bars her from "disparaging [Bloomberg LP]" or making any "statements...to the media, to current or former employees or to others, that may be considered to be derogatory to the good name or business reputation" of Bloomberg LP.
Since 2016, Clancy has filed three cases against Bloomberg LP, including Evans' case. All three are currently ongoing and describe rampant discrimination and a toxic culture at Bloomberg LP. In one filing, a young woman identified as "Margaret Doe" alleged she was raped by her boss during her tenure at the company.
Julie Roginsky, one of the founders of Lift Our Voices, told Business Insider that, thus far, Bloomberg has not responded to the group's letter. As of now, the group has heard from Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker, and GOP candidate former Rep. Joe Walsh, who all pledged not to use non-disclosure agreements to stop workers from discussing workplace issues.
Roginsky said that Biden and Walsh told the group that they don't use non-disclosure agreements for their campaign workers. In a statement to Lift Our Voices, the Biden campaign said "sexual harassment and other types of discrimination at work are simply unacceptable. No one should be forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement that prevents them from speaking out about harassment or discrimination, and Joe Biden opposes non-disclosure agreements that have been used to silence survivors."
While Booker does employ non-disclosure agreements on his campaign to prevent aides from disclosing proprietary information, he won't enforce them for toxic workplace issues, the New Jersey Globe reported.
"Women should be able to tell their own stories and women should have the right to share their experiences, not just privately among themselves but also publicly toward others about potential hostile work issues that they may encounter if they work for any corporation. There is no reason why Bloomberg or any other corporation or organization works to prevent women from being able to speak truth to power," Roginsky said. "If the organization feels strongly there wasn't wrongdoing, it should be in a position to respond publicly to any allegations."
Recent amendments to New York law prevent employers from including non-disclosure provisions regarding discrimination claims unless that is the employees' preference. As of last week, non-disclosure agreements in New York must also include notice that employees are not prohibited from "speaking with law enforcement, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the state Division of Human Rights, a local commission on human rights, or an attorney retained by the employee or potential employee."
The New York law follows similar legislation that went into effect last year in New Jersey that bans non-disclosure agreements in cases alleging discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.
A person familiar with Evans' lawsuit said the amended complaint is an effort to pressure companies like Bloomberg LP to retroactively comply with the new law in New York.
Clancy said she has spoken to women who feared speaking out about their experiences at Bloomberg LP because they believed they could be sued or face retaliation.
"When you are hired, you sign an NDA," Clancy told Business Insider. "When you are either terminated or resign, you're asked to sign an NDA, and you are reminded of your obligation to not discuss any information that you've learned while at the company. And then of course if there are any complaints made post employment or legal claims brought there are settlement agreements, separation agreements that can also contain NDAs."
In its November report on Bloomberg LP's history of discrimination complaints, Business Insider asked the company and a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson whether, in light of Michael Bloomberg's presidential run, the company and the candidate will release employees with whom they have entered into nondisclosure agreements from their obligations to remain silent. Both declined to respond.
This week, a spokesperson for the Bloomberg campaign again declined to comment.
A Bloomberg LP spokesperson said in a statement: "Bloomberg strongly supports a culture that treats all employees with dignity and respect, and enforces that culture through clear policies and practices. Our diversity and inclusion efforts - including training on preventing harassment and gender bias - are designed to foster a culture where thousands of people are proud to work every day."
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Appreciate this effort, encouraging sensible culture change (not another federal law) that could help a lot of people.- Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) December 18, 2019
FTR: No one on my team is bound by an NDA. We need more transparency in govt, not less, and that starts with the culture candidates create in their campaigns. https://t.co/yjkmfOWFEo
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