Michael Bloomberg to release female employees from gag orders
Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg has bowed to pressure to release former female employees from non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).
He said his company was prepared to void three NDAs "with women to address complaints about comments they said I had made".
His Democratic White House rivals have been pounding away at him on the issue.
Critics of NDAs argue these legal gag orders on employees serve to cover up workplace misconduct.
What did Bloomberg say?
In a campaign statement on Friday, he said his media company Bloomberg LP had trawled through its records over the past three decades or so and identified three NDAs.
"If any of them want to be released from their NDA so that they can talk about those allegations, they should contact the company and they'll be given a release," he said.
"I've done a lot of reflecting on this issue over the past few days and I've decided that for as long as I'm running the company, we won't offer confidentiality agreements to resolve claims of sexual harassment or misconduct going forward."
He added: "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."
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- Who is Michael Bloomberg?
Mr Bloomberg, 78, is one of eight contenders remaining in the race to become the Democratic party's presidential candidate who will take on President Donald Trump, a Republican, in November's election.
The former New York City mayor, who is the world's ninth richest man, has reportedly splurged $500m (£385m) of his own money on campaigning since jumping into the race last November.
How did this become a campaign issue?
During a live TV debate on Wednesday in Las Vegas, one contender, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, criticised Mr Bloomberg as "a billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced lesbians'".
She also challenged him to release female employees from the NDAs, but he declined.
Another rival, former US Vice-President Joe Biden, attacked Mr Bloomberg, too.
"All the mayor has to do is say, 'you are released from the nondisclosure agreements,'" Mr Biden said.
Stepping up her attack a day later, Ms Warren, a law professor, said she had even drafted a contract for Mr Bloomberg to sign to release women from the NDAs.
"I used to teach contract law, and I thought I would make this easy," she told a CNN town hall event on Thursday in Las Vegas.
Bloomberg's past comments under fire
- A 1990 booklet of quotes attributed to the billionaire includes sexist remarks, such as "if women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they'd go to the library instead of [luxury department store] Bloomingdale's". He also reportedly told a pregnant employee she should "kill it", which he has denied under oath.
- In a recently leaked video clip, Mr Bloomberg appears to justify his controversial stop-and-frisk policy when he was New York mayor by saying "you want to put those cops where the crime is, which mean in minority neighbourhoods", before adding that 95% of murderers and murder victims are male minorities. He has apologised.
- During a 2016 talk, the former mayor suggested that farming and factory work required less "grey matter" than information technology jobs. "I could teach anybody, even the people in this room, no offence intended, to be a farmer," Mr Bloomberg said.
- Last year, Mr Bloomberg mocked Democratic candidates for championing transgender issues. "If your conversation during a presidential election is about some guy wearing a dress and whether he, she, or it can go to the locker room with their daughter, that's not a winning formula for most people," he said.
What are NDAs?
NDAs started out as legal contracts to ensure employees did not leak trade secrets.
But the hush deals have come under intense scrutiny during the #MeToo movement against sexual assault as some companies have used NDAs in harassment settlements with female employees.
The nondisclosure provision prohibits signatories from revealing details, such as allegations of misconduct, or else they could face legal consequences.
Critics say NDAs silence victims, protect wrongdoers and shield employers from unfavourable publicity. But it is not just companies that have used these contracts.
A porn star, Stormy Daniels, was paid $130,000 to sign an NDA to stop her talking about an alleged 2006 fling with US President Donald Trump, which he denied.