By Julia Love
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -A former Apple Inc employee who had filed a whistleblower complaint related to Apple’s use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) has inspired draft legislation in Washington state that seeks to restrict companies’ use of NDAs in settlements of workplace harassment and discrimination claims.
The measure comes on the heels of similar legislation in California.
Washington state Senator Karen Keiser and Representative Liz Berry, both Democrats, are working on bills in their respective houses, which they plan to introduce in the next legislative session, their offices confirmed this week.
Cher Scarlett, a former Apple employee and Washington resident who has played a leading role in worker activism, said she reached out to Keiser in October to raise awareness about the issue. Chelsey Glasson, a former Google employee who sued for pregnancy discrimination, also wrote the lawmaker. The outreach from both women helped inspire Keiser to pursue the bill, an aide to Keiser said.
“No worker should be silenced from sharing their deeply personal story of harassment or discrimination in the workplace just because they signed an NDA,” Berry said in a statement.
NDAs are commonplace in the technology industry. Some employees have alleged that tech giants use them to discourage legally protected activities such as discussions of working conditions.
In September, investor Nia Impact Capital filed a shareholder proposal calling for Apple’s board to prepare a “public report assessing the potential risks to the company associated with its use of concealment clauses in the context of harassment, discrimination and other unlawful acts.”
Apple in October filed a response with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission saying it wanted to exclude the proposal because “the company’s policy is to not use such clauses.”
After viewing Apple’s response, Scarlett said she filed an SEC whistleblower complaint in October alleging that Apple had made false and misleading statements to the regulator. She also shared documents with Nia Impact Capital.
Scarlett, who left Apple last week, said she decided to go public with that information this week, in violation of the terms of her settlement with Apple. Business Insider first reported details of her story.
Apple declined to comment. The company has previously said it is “deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace.”
The draft legislation in Washington echoes the Silenced No More Act, signed into law this year in California and co-sponsored by tech whistleblower Ifeoma Ozoma.
(Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)