House GOP continues sexual misconduct study with public hearing

The state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., is shown in December 2016. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo, file)

The state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., is shown in December 2016. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo, file)

As part of their announced effort to curb sexual harassment and abuse in the Legislature, and in Pennsylvania workplaces generally, a House committee has held a public hearing on the subject.

Multiple panels of testifiers laid out what they see as weaknesses in existing harassment and reporting laws.

Most agreed that, for one, among the trickiest parts of reforming misconduct rules is figuring out how to handle nondisclosure agreements.

They’re par for the course in many workplaces. But after the #MeToo movement uncovered repeated harassment cases silenced by them, many people called for total bans.

A bill introduced in the state Senate sought to do just that. But Donna Greco, policy director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said the idea is flawed.

“While we appreciated the intent, we were concerned that banning all of them would do a disservice to individual victims who would feel restricted by not having that option any longer,” she said.

She noted, the bill in question — Senate Bill 999 —is being updated to ban required nondisclosure agreements, but give plaintiffs the power to choose them if they want.

Another testifier, workers’ rights lawyer Larry Weisberg, said one of his biggest concerns is that the commonwealth’s major workers’ rights law doesn’t apply to employers with fewer than four workers.

“When we are contacted in our office by these types of employees who work for smaller employers, we simply have to tell them that there is no recourse under the law,” Weisberg said.

Among other things, he also said plaintiffs should be allowed to seek a wider range of damages, and should have the right to a jury trial.

He noted, there are bills pending in the legislature that would address these, and other concerns.

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