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New law changes right to report sexual harassment and assault at work

A new law is giving workers more opportunity to report sexual misconduct on the job. President Biden signed the Speak Out Act Wednesday, which allows employees to be released from certain non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs. 

Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who is also a former CBS News correspondent, led the effort to get the law passed with former Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky. For them, the Speak Out Act is about changing a culture rooted in silence. 

"If you are … one of the millions of workers in America who signed a non-disclosure agreement on your very first day of work, you now are able to raise your hand and say, 'My boss or my colleague is sexually harassing me,' or 'I was sexually assaulted,' and nobody's going to be able to prevent you up until the moment that you file a lawsuit," Roginsky said.

It is not unusual for companies and employers to use NDAs, which can help protect trade secrets. But the agreements have also been used to cover up bad behavior.   

CBS News legal analyst Rikki Kleiman said employees who had certain clauses within their employment agreements really couldn't tell anyone about sexual assault or harassment in the workplace before the Speak Out Act. 

"If you spoke out and you knew about these clauses, you knew you could be sued," Kleiman said. "Also, there's an atmosphere of fear about speaking out and being the only voice, that maybe you'll never work again."

In 2016 and 2017, Carlson and Roginsky came forward with sexual harassment claims against Fox News. The women allege former Fox News chief Roger Ailes sexually harassed them. Ailes and his attorneys denied the accusations before he died in 2017.

"When Gretchen first filed her lawsuit, I was still at Fox and I had two thoughts when that lawsuit was filed," Roginsky said. "My first thought was, 'Oh my God. This poor woman. We'll never see her again.' My second thought, which I couldn't voice to anybody except myself, was, 'Oh my God. So, it's not just me. It's not just me.'"

But they said the Speak Out Act doesn't do enough to protect people who experience racism, sexism or other forms of discrimination and harassment at work.

"The Speak Out act only addresses harassment and assault, and it's only for NDAs that you sign on your first day of work up until you file a legal process," Carlson said. "This does not address NDAs for all other disenfranchised groups. Any kind of racial discrimination, age, disability, LGBTQ+, gender. This does not address that at all."

Carlson and Roginsky are also not protected under the new law because they signed NDAs during settlements between Ailes and Fox News.

Fox News publicly apologized to Carlson in 2016. Her settlement was a reported $20 million. 

But both women said no amount of money is worth someone's silence. 

"We wish that we had our voices," Carlson said. "But at the time, that was just the way the system worked. And that's why we're trying to dismantle it."

Carlson and Roginsky said knowing what they know today, they would not have signed the NDAs.

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