CHICAGO — Details of alleged sexual assaults by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, comedian Bill Cosby and other famous figures are now widely known in part because several accusers did something they promised in writing never to do: They talked publicly about their allegations.
When those women spoke out, they broke nondisclosure agreements — contractual pledges not to discuss what happened that are common features of financial settlements. In doing so, they helped start a national discussion about sexual misconduct and showed that the agreements do not necessarily offer the same ironclad protection that for decades has shielded the rich and powerful.
A look at how the agreements work and what can happen when accusers go public anyway:
WHAT THEY ARE
The agreements amount to contracts to buy and sell silence. Some require that accusers destroy emails and other evidence related to the allegations. The pacts are typically signed before an accuser sues or before a lawsuit gets to trial.
The accusers may see trading silence for money as their sole recourse to obtain a degree of justice, especially if statutes of limitation rule out criminal charges. Others fear opting for a civil or criminal trial means an emotionally draining courtroom fight in a media spotlight.
“Many women go into the settlement agreement because they just don’t want to face what potentially could be coming,” said former Fox News anchor Juliet Huddy, who, according to a New York Times report in January, signed a confidentiality deal to settle claims against“Some people just want to make it go away and move on with their lives.”
Those comments to NBC in October came in her first extended interview since the out-of-court settlement in 2016 with 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company. But with her lawyer beside her, she was careful not to break the confidentiality pledge. She talked only generally about women coping with abuse but declined to offer any details about the allegations or settlement.
Zelda Perkins, a former Weinstein assistant, was among the first of his accusers to break a commitment to stay quiet — one she kept for nearly 20 years, until an October interview with the Financial Times. She said she’s speaking now about“on every occasion I was alone with him” and about her 1998 settlement to spark debate “about how egregious these agreements are.”
THE CHALLENGE OF ENFORCEMENT
Two parties can agree…