Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Bloomberg says his business will release three women from NDAs

Feb 22. 2020
Mike Bloomberg/ Getty Images
Mike Bloomberg/ Getty Images
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By The Washington Post · Colby Itkowitz, Michael Scherer · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, POLITICS, COURTSLAW · 

Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg said Friday that his company will release from their nondisclosure agreements three women who have accused him of making offensive comments, a decision that comes after days of pressure from fellow presidential candidates.

Bloomberg, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, also said that after "a lot of reflecting," he would not propose confidential agreements to resolve sexual misconduct claims in the future.

"I recognize that NDAs, particularly when they are used in the context of sexual harassment and sexual assault, promote a culture of silence in the workplace and contribute to a culture of women not feeling safe or supported," Bloomberg said in a statement. 

Bloomberg said his media and financial services company had identified three NDAs that "address complaints about comments" he had made. The women at the center of those agreements can ask to be released if they would like to speak publicly, Bloomberg said.

It is unlikely that Bloomberg's release applies to any women who has ever accused the company or other employees of harassment or misconduct. It is also unclear how many NDAs Bloomberg's company has signed over the last 30 years. 

Bonnie Josephs, a New York City lawyer who initially represented a former Bloomberg employee in a sexual harassment case, criticized Bloomberg's decision as too narrow. 

"This is ridiculous. What it appears he's doing is responding only to the people who have complained about him personally," she said. "In my opinion, he can't separate that out. He's the boss. He's the owner. It's his shop, and if it happens in his shop, it's on his watch. It doesn't matter if it wasn't him. He sets the tone."

Josephs represented Sekiko Sakai Garrison, a former Bloomberg employee who filed the most high-profile suit against him alleging that he told her to "kill it" when he learned she was pregnant, which Garrison took as a reference to abortion. 

Garrison also said Bloomberg once told her and other female employees to line up and give oral sex as a present to a male colleague who was getting married.

Garrison settled her case for a sum in the six figures, three sources have told The Post. 

The NDA issue has dogged Bloomberg for nearly a week, since The Washington Post published a story that detailed decades of discrimination lawsuits and claims of sexism against Bloomberg's company, including one from a former employee that directly blamed Bloomberg for creating a culture that permitted sexual harassment and degradation of women. 

Unlike President Donald Trump, Bloomberg has not been accused of sexual misconduct, but instead he's been sued for sexually inappropriate comments that plaintiffs say fostered a hostile workplace culture for women.

At Wednesday's Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., hammered Bloomberg on the issue, calling on him to release the women from nondisclosure agreements.

Bloomberg initially downplayed it, saying "none of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told."

"There's agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet and that's up to them," he added. "They signed those agreements, and we'll live with it."

The next night, Warren goaded him with an NDA release form she drafted and said he just needed to sign. 

In internal campaign discussions, Bloomberg said Warren's attacks changed his thinking on the issue, according to a person familiar with Bloomberg who requested anonymity to discuss campaign deliberations. 

Rather than approach the question as a CEO focused on the sanctity of legal agreements, Bloomberg realized he had to approach the issue as a presidential candidate, this person said.

Shortly after Bloomberg's statement on Friday, Warren said it was "not good enough." 

"Michael Bloomberg needs to do a blanket release, so that all the women who have been muzzled by nondisclosure agreements can step up and tell their side of the story," she said. "If he wants to be the Democratic nominee, and he wants to be the president of the United States, than he's going to have to be fully transparent on this issue. We can not have a leader of our party who selectively decides who gets to tell about their history with him."




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