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California's Pending #MeToo Laws: Call Your Legislators [updated]

A few steps forward, a few steps back.  On the question of whether or not anything has really changed after a year of #MeToo, the jury is still very much out.

But while the war rages on to transform the culture, California workers are gaining new legal tools to fight sexual abuse and harassment on the job.  Keep in mind that current California laws are typically more friendly to employees than in most other states.  For instance, existing laws prohibit a wide range of bullying activities, and victims of harassment have the right to sue not only the employer, but also the harasser personally.

Last month Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2770 into law to protect employees and victims from defamation claims.  According to a legislative analysis, “the state’s defamation laws sometimes deter victims, witnesses, and former employers from making complaints or communicating information about harassers to others.”  Under the new law, any claims made by victims or witnesses (without malice) will be protected.  AB 2770 goes into effect on January 1, 2019.

A host of other bills are currently under consideration in the California legislature, including:

  • SB 1343 would require any employer with more than five employees to provide sexual harassment training. The current threshold is 50 employees. Had the lower threshold been in effect, Cinefamily almost certainly would have been covered.

  • AB 3080 would prevent employers from requiring workers to waive their legal rights as a condition of employment. Many employers currently require arbitration, a process commonly understood to favor employers. The much-written-about employment suit brought against Cinefamily in 2014 was reportedly forced into arbitration.

  • SB 820 would prohibit nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) in the case of sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination. Cinefamily reportedly used NDAs extensively.

  • AB 1870 would extend the deadline for filing a discrimination complaint with the state from the current one year up to three years. Several former Cinefamily staff and volunteers reported incidents to me that fell inside this two-year gap.

  • SB 224 would expand liability for sexual harassment beyond employers. Under the bill, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protections would apply to a more expansive set of power relations, covering producers, directors, elected officials, and investors.

  • SB 1038 would strengthen protections for workers who complain about harassment or discrimination. Currently, employers can be corporately liable for improper retaliation; under SB 1038, individuals who retaliate would be personally liable. Many former staff told me about retaliation by Cinefamily management; this bill would have allowed improperly terminated staff to bring suit directly against the individual managers.

  • SB 1300 seeks several changes to state law to crack down on sexual harassment, including expanded training requirements for employers, and making it harder for employers to force employees to waive legal rights, and altering the FEHA in other ways to help level the legal playing field for workers.

  • AB 1867 increases recordkeeping requirements on employers to preserve accounts and to help detect patterns of abuse.

  • AB 3081 would also strengthen protections against employer retaliation, as well as other protections for victims of abuse.

As of this writing, all of these bills are active in the state legislature.  You can use this website to easily look up your representatives in the Assembly and the Senate.  Click through and get in touch with your two representatives.  Let them know how you feel about these bills.

UPDATE 10/28/18: Here’s a good rundown on the new California legislation from an excellent employee-side law firm.