Confidentiality of government settlements in sexual harassment claims at issue in proposed law

A bill that would allow the identities of victims of sexual harassment and sexual criminal offenses, and possibly other identifying details, to be concealed as part of settlement agreements with the government is going back to a subcommittee for an additional amendment.

State Rep. Carson Beck, D-Nashville

The bill, HB 594 by state Rep. Carson Beck, D-Nashville, was referred back to the House Civil Justice Subcommittee because of a late-filed amendment.

The language in the current bill says: “Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, any provision of a settlement agreement entered into be a governmental entity that has the effect of prohibiting the disclosure of details or the identities of persons relating to a claim by any of the parties is void and unenforceable as contrary to the public policy of this state; except that identifying information concerning a person who is a victim of sexual harassment or an offense under title 39, chapter 13, part 5; title 39, chapter 17, part 10; § 39-13-111; § 39- 13-605; § 39-15-302; § 39-15-401; or § 39-15-402 is confidential until such person authorizes the disclosure of the information.”

(The crimes in the criminal code listed above include, sexual offenses, sexual exploitation, domestic assault, incest, and child abuse, neglect and endangerment.)

The amendment would remove the word “details” after concern that some details of the settlement might serve to identify the victim.

Appellate courts have ruled that settlement agreements reached by government cannot be concealed, and the attorney general has opined the same.

But in explaining the bill to the Civil Justice Subcommittee  on Feb. 19, Beck indicated the bill solves a problem with information being withheld under settlement provisions.

“This is a bill that we had in front of us last year. According to the law as it stands today, many sexual harassment settlements can be concealed where we don’t know the name of the harasser or the accused using public funds. This bill would make it against public policy to make these types of settlements sealed or away from the public eye. My estimation, the public has a right to know. The victims will always be protected.”

The bill is scheduled to be heard again by the subcommittee at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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