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Sen. Phillps unveils bill to ban secret harassment settlements

New York State Senator Elaine Phillips speaks to

New York State Senator Elaine Phillips speaks to constituents at a New Hyde Park community meeting on Jan. 12, 2017. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

ALBANY — Two Republican state senators have proposed legislation to ban confidential settlements in sexual harassment cases, part of an effort they say is intended to toughen laws in the wake of national scandals involving celebrities and politicians.

The bill, backed Sens. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) and Catharine Young (R-Olean), also would establish a new statutory definition of sexual harassment, cover freelance or contract workers under sexual harassment laws, and prohibit mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment complaints.

Phillips called it “landmark” legislation and the most significant statewide initiative on the issue “in decades.”

“It is inspiring to see the movement of women and men across our country coming forward, sharing their personal stories, and overcoming the stigma and shame brought on by the inappropriate actions of others,” Phillips said in a statement. “The dialogue must continue and as elected officials we must do all possible to protect those who have been forced to carry the burden of harassment out of fear for their future.”

Notably, the Republicans announced their legislation two days after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he might propose new laws on the issue in his upcoming State of the State address. The Democrat hinted he might propose forcing publicly traded, private companies to disclose sexual-harassment settlements.

Albany has had its share of sexual-harassment scandals in the last five years. In 2013, Vito Lopez of Brooklyn resigned just before he was about to be expelled from the state Assembly after it was revealed the state secretly paid $103,000 to two female staffers who accused him of harassment. In 2014, Buffalo-area Assemb. Dennis Gabryszak resigned following multiple complaints filed by female staffers in his office.

Earlier this month, an ex-state employee filed a harassment lawsuit against the state and Sam Hoyt, one of Cuomo’s former top-level political appointees.

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