Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Things Rich People Do To Keep You Peasants From Airing Their Dirty Laundry

NewYorker |  Weinstein’s employees were, and are, bound by confidentiality agreements included in their employment contracts with Miramax and the Weinstein Company. While nondisclosure agreements are a standard feature of employment contracts, the clauses in Weinstein’s included a special provision about information “concerning the personal, social or business activities” of “the co-Chairmen”—namely, Harvey and Bob Weinstein. Estreicher, the expert on employment law, told me that the nondisclosure clause regarding the personal lives of both Weinstein brothers was unusual. 

“That’s not generally found, the personal conduct of an individual being part of a contract like that.”
Many employees I spoke with said that these contractual provisions made it impossible to talk about suspicious behavior they witnessed at the company. Irwin Reiter, who worked for Weinstein for nearly three decades and is currently the Weinstein Company’s executive vice president for accounting and financial reporting, had previously declined requests to participate in stories. “I hope there’s no reprisal,” he told me, referring to legal action against employees. He said that he was nevertheless going public because he felt the culture of silence at the company deserved further scrutiny. Weinstein, he told me, “was so dominant that I think a lot of people were afraid of him, afraid to confront him, or question him, and that was the environment.” Reiter also raised doubts about the fairness of lifetime nondisclosure agreements. “A forever N.D.A. should not be legal,” he told me. “People should not be made to live with that. He’s created so many victims that have been burdened for so many years, and it’s just not right.”

These contractual constraints are perfectly legal. Allred, the victim’s-rights attorney, said that courts usually enforce them and view efforts to break them as “buyer’s remorse.” But in recent weeks lawmakers and legal experts have called for reforms to this system. Estreicher has proposed that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the government body that oversees workplace discrimination, track sexual-misconduct-related settlements and investigate employers who use them repeatedly. In addition to Congresswoman Jackie Speier’s legislation regarding congressional employees, state lawmakers in New York and California are pushing legislation to curtail the use of nondisclosure agreements in sexual-abuse cases. “These secret settlements perpetuate the problem. They allow rich men to continue to be sexual predators,” Connie Leyva, the California state senator who has announced legislation in that state, told me. “I hope that we can get this done in California, and that it will spread like wildfire around the country.”

Allred raised concerns about the potential reforms, which she feared could limit victims’ options. She noted that “anyone who agrees to enter into a settlement has a choice” and accepts both the costs and the—sometimes considerable—benefits. Good attorneys, she argued, explain the full implications of such agreements. “And then the client makes an informed choice.”

Gutierrez, Perkins, and other women who signed agreements with Weinstein told me that they felt their consent was far from informed. Gutierrez said that she wished she had been aware that Weinstein had faced similar allegations in the past. When, after the fact, she learned that his behavior with her was part of a pattern, she was filled with guilt. “I couldn’t even think of that person touching someone else,” she told me. “It made me have chills.” Gutierrez said that she wants to warn people of the risks of silence. “People need to really change right now,” she said. “To listen and speak. That was the worst thing—people not speaking.”