yesEmily BirnbaumNone
×

Get access to Protocol

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Policy

New California law would give wronged workers a way out of NDAs

Ex-Pinterest employee Ifeoma Ozoma helped draft the bill that would allow workers to speak out about all forms of covered workplace discrimination, not just sexual harassment.

New California law would give wronged workers a way out of NDAs

California State Senator Connie Leyva introduced the Silenced No More Act on Monday.

Photo: Gina Ferazzi/Getty Images

Ifeoma Ozoma took a huge risk last year when she publicly alleged that she faced racist and sexist discrimination during her time at Pinterest. She knew Pinterest could sue her and her colleague Aerica Shimizu Banks for speaking out about their experiences as Black women at the company. But she also knew that a new law called CCP 1001 protected her right to speak out about sexism she faced at Pinterest, even if she was bound by a non-disclosure agreement.

But Ozoma soon realized that the law, passed in the wake of the #MeToo movement, has serious limitations. While it specifies that California workers can speak out about any sex-based discrimination, it says nothing about other forms of abuse, like racism.

"If Pinterest decides to sue me, they'd have to state affirmatively that the discrimination I faced was not because of my sex — it was because of my race," Ozoma said. "This has been the only time being a Black woman was a double-bind for the other person, not for me."

Now, Ozoma is helping lead an effort to dramatically expand the law. She's been working for months behind the scenes with employment rights advocates and the office of California State Senator Connie Leyva, who introduced CCP 1001 in 2018, to put together legislation that would allow every person in California to speak out about workplace abuse, even after signing an NDA.

Leyva introduced the bill, the Silenced No More Act, or SB 331, on Monday. She told Protocol that she anticipates that the colleagues who voted for her last NDA bill will vote for this one. She admitted that COVID-related issues will take precedence in the California legislature during the new year, "but there are issues that are just as important – like discrimination and harassment, especially based on age and race. If we don't pass legislation, that's another year that goes by that people are mistreated in the workplace. We don't want people to be silenced."

Jess Stender, a senior counsel with Equal Rights Advocates, said Ozoma's experiences "really shows why we need to prohibit these gag orders for all forms of discrimination."

"A worker who has been subjected to discrimination or harassment in the workplace has already suffered a trauma," Stender said. "So to impose a gag order on them and tell them 'you cannot talk to anyone about this traumatic incident you experienced' is to inflict yet another harm on them."

Leyva's legislation would cover every discrimination category under California law, including race, ancestry, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and others. If it passes, it could help break the tech industry's deeply entrenched culture of silence around the treatment of marginalized workers.

Right now, NDAs are nearly ubiquitous in Silicon Valley; many tech giants even require visitors to sign one before stepping foot in the office. Those agreements have become even more stringent as tech worker activism has grown, lawyers told Protocol last year. Advocates and workers have argued that those NDAs prevent real change from happening, gagging workers who would otherwise want to speak out about how they were treated at the tech behemoths.

The legislation comes at an inflection point for the industry, as Google faces a wave of departures of high-profile employees of color, including AI ethicist Timnit Gebru and diversity recruiter April Christina Curley, who say they faced racism from their managers during their time at the company.

Meredith Whittaker, who led organizing efforts at Google before she left in 2019, said the public stories about mistreatment at Google are only the tip of the iceberg. She's hopeful the California legislation could empower scores more workers to add their voices to the conversation.

Whittaker said when she was at Google, she and other worker activists would regularly hear from employees who desperately wanted to share their stories. "We'd have Signal calls with people about the experiences they'd had, and oftentimes folks would finish it up with, 'I wish I could talk about it. I'm afraid. I don't want to get sued. I signed an agreement,'" Whittaker said. "It's really clear that being able to tell these stories is key both for healing from these terrible experiences, which can be severely traumatizing, and is key for beginning to understand what it is we need to change."

The business lobby, including the California Chamber of Commerce, fought back hard against the California bills passed in the wake of the #MeToo movement, arguing the legislation could lead to confusion and excessive litigation. Ozoma is anticipating a similar fight this time around.

"The only people who will not be supportive of this are the general counsels at companies who have been invested in keeping these forms of discrimination silent," Ozoma said. "What I would love is for any company or organization who opposes [this legislation] to put out a statement explaining why the forms of discrimination they're employing in their workplace should be kept quiet."

Amid the Black Lives Matter movement 's reinvigoration over the summer, every major tech company issued a statement pledging their support for communities of color, flooding civil rights groups with cash and launching brand-new lobbying efforts in support of police reform. This legislation could provide the latest test for the industry's commitment to racial justice and equal rights, Ozoma said.

It could be particularly important for tech's "shadow work force": the contract and temp workers who often can't afford extensive legal fees. "Missing a paycheck may mean living in your car," Whittaker said of tech's contract workforce. "Those are the folks we really need to protect with bills like this."

Ozoma believes Leyva's legislation has a good shot of passing, as long as the California legislature decides to take up bills that aren't directly related to the pandemic over the next few months. But the ultimate goal for activists like Whittaker and Ozoma is federal legislation requiring a slew of changes to NDAs, including an end to forced arbitration agreements and to any clauses that seek to silence workers. After all, Leyva's legislation would only protect California workers.

"Tons of folks are focused on tech accountability right now," Ozoma said. "You cannot have accountability unless you know what is going on. If people are silenced legally from speaking about their experiences, we will never be able to address what's happening."

People

No editing, no hashtags: Dispo wants you to live in the moment

David Dobrik's new photography app harkens back to the days of the disposable camera.

Dispo turns the concept of a photography app into something altogether different.

Image: Katya Sapozhnina, Diana Morgan, Amanda Luke

Instagram was once a place to share Starbucks cups and high-contrast pet photos. After Facebook acquired it in 2012, it has turned into a competition of getting as many likes as possible (using the same formula over and over: post the best highly-curated, edited photos with the funniest captions). More recently, it's essentially become a shopping mall, with brands falling over themselves to be heard through the noise. Doing something "for the gram" — scaling buildings, posting the same cringe picture over and over — became the norm. Pop-up museums litter cities with photo ops for posts; "camera eats first"; everything can be a cute Instagram story; everything is content.

And to be clear, Dispo — a buzzy new photography app that just came out of beta — is still a place for content. It probably isn't going to fix our collective online brains and their inclination to share everything about our private lives with others online. It's still an app, and it's still social media, and it encourages documenting your life. But it runs pretty differently than any other image-sharing app out there. And that might be what helps it stand out in an oversaturated market of social networking apps.

Keep Reading Show less
Jane Seidel

Jane Seidel is Protocol's social media manager. She was previously a platform producer at The Wall Street Journal, creating mobile content and crafting alert strategy. Prior to that, she worked in audience development at WSJ and on digital editorial at NBC Universal. She lives in Brooklyn.

Sponsored Content

Building better relationships in the age of all-remote work

How Stripe, Xero and ModSquad work with external partners and customers in Slack channels to build stronger, lasting relationships.

Image: Original by Damian Zaleski

Every business leader knows you can learn the most about your customers and partners by meeting them face-to-face. But in the wake of Covid-19, the kinds of conversations that were taking place over coffee, meals and in company halls are now relegated to video conferences—which can be less effective for nurturing relationships—and email.

Email inboxes, with hard-to-search threads and siloed messages, not only slow down communication but are also an easy target for scammers. Earlier this year, Google reported more than 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to Covid-19 scams in just one week and more than 240 million daily spam messages.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics

A Bloomberg-backed ‘tech co’ is building campaign tools for the left and right

The stealthy firm, which has been buying political tech firms for more than a year, is backed by Emma Bloomberg's philanthropic group.

The new firm, called Tech co., is backed by Michael Bloomberg's daughter, Emma Bloomberg.

Image: Clayton Cardinalli

A new company backed by Michael Bloomberg's daughter Emma Bloomberg has been quietly buying political tech firms and going on a hiring spree, as it seeks to create a digital organizing platform that operates "outside of a traditional 'Red/Blue' partisan paradigm."

Neither the existence of the firm, called simply Tech co. for now, nor its high-profile funder have been previously reported, though it's been up and running for at least a year. But a spate of recent job listings seeking data scientists, behavioral scientists and engineers have circulated through the insular political tech whisper mill, sparking curiosity as the startup prepares to emerge from stealth mode this spring.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Politics

A Macedonian misinfo site ruled Parler before the Capitol riot

According to new data, some 87% of all news links on Parler leading up to Jan. 6 were from misinformation sites.

Before the Capitol riot, some 87% of news links on Parler led to known misinformation sites.

Photo: Parler

In the week leading up to the riot inside the U.S. Capitol, a whopping 87% of all news links on Parler led to known misinformation sites, according to a new report from the news rating firm NewsGuard and analytics firm PeakMetrics.

The report quantifies just how polluted the information landscape was on Parler in January, before it was unceremoniously deplatformed by Amazon. This week, the app relaunched following a month-long hiatus, with few guardrails in place to prevent history from repeating itself.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Latest Stories