Speak Out Act

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 16, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CICILLINE. Madam Speaker, this bill is proof of the extraordinary leadership of Chairman Nadler and the Judiciary Committee. He has led our committee in a principled, determined way. I think as a result of his leadership, the Judiciary Committee has been the most productive, impactful, and effective committee in the Congress. While my colleagues on the other side of the aisle look forward to a different chairman, I acknowledge the extraordinary leadership of our current chairman.

Madam Speaker, I rise today in strong support of S. 4524, the Speak Out Act. I applaud the sponsors, Ms. Frankel, Mr. Buck, and all the other bipartisan leaders who were part of this effort, including you, Madam Speaker.

This commonsense legislation will prevent the enforcement of predispute nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreements in sexual harassment and sexual assault disputes.

It will ensure that any survivor who wants to share their story without fear of judicially enforced reprisals can do so.

In fact, it is unthinkable, I hope to all of us, that widespread sexual misconduct can be covered up and swept under the rug because of NDAs snuck into these take-it-or-leave-it contracts. It is well beyond time for this abusive practice to end.

Enacting the Speak Out Act will bring sunlight and transparency to a system that relies on the shadows to hide horrific conduct. It will make our society more just. It will help end the culture of silence that allows predators to evade accountability.

I look forward to sending this bill to the President's desk and taking another step in our critical and ongoing work to eliminate the forced silence that prevents survivors of sexual misconduct from having their voices heard.

Before closing, I want to address the argument raised by some of my Republican colleagues that the Speak Out Act interferes with the rights of States to establish their own laws on this issue. They are missing the point. This legislation protects an American value by prohibiting survivor censorship and defending the freedom of survivors to tell their own stories. This baseline freedom should not vary from State to State.

Finally, I want to say that the Speak Out Act creates a floor for the basic protection of survivors' rights to speak out, not a ceiling. States remain free to enact stronger protections for survivors. According to reports, 15 States have done just that, with some States like California banning the use of NDAs entirely. Federal legislation is still necessary because survivors should not have to rely on a patchwork of varying States, uncertain which might apply to them.

Finally, I end by noting that I am a little bit confused and, I will be honest, disappointed by the opposition I have heard from some of my Republican colleagues in light of their previous statements.

For example, during consideration of legislation that prohibited the enforcement of forced arbitration clauses in the same kinds of cases, Mr. Jordan, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said: ``Victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault must have their claims heard. They must never be silenced or intimidated into silence.''

The Speak Out Act provides precisely that protection. I strongly urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan legislation that was passed unanimously in the Senate that builds upon the great work of you, Madam Speaker, in H.R. 4445 so that, once and for all, we can no longer provide protection to predators and abusers that are acting with impunity in workplaces all over America.