A new group founded by three former Fox News employees is sending a letter to all presidential campaigns on Wednesday asking them to publicly condemn nondisclosure agreements that deal with workplace environment issues.
The group, called Lift Our Voices, was formed by Gretchen Carlson, Julie Roginsky and Diana Falzone. All three women a few years ago sued Fox News Channel or its chief executive at the time, Roger Ailes, and as part of their settlements were forced to sign nondisclosure agreements.
“These NDAs are a driving force in silencing workers and promulgating a culture where employers are able to cover up toxicity, including issues of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, rather than address it and end it,” the letter says. It continues: “It is time for our leaders to demonstrate that they are on the side of the women and men who have been silenced for too long from discussing the hostility they have encountered by speaking out loudly and publicly against NDAs.”
While the letter is asking for a public condemnation on the policy from the next or current president, it is in effect pressuring current campaigns that may be employing the practice to end it as well. It is unclear how many current presidential campaigns forced employees to sign nondisclosure agreements as part of their employment, but the tactic has been used in the past, including for some members of both the Clinton and Trump 2016 campaigns.
The group is not necessarily calling for an end to all nondisclosure agreements, understanding the need on a political campaign to protect trade secrets like self-research and internal polling. Instead, it is focused on nondisclosure agreements solely dealing with workplace environment issues, like sexual harassment.
“This is incredibly important for a presidential candidate to get on board with,” said Ms. Carlson in an interview, adding that her goal with the letter was to force discussion of the issue in the election, particularly in presidential debates. “Whether it’s the president of the United States, or a person running a company, the buck stops with that person. And they can shift the discussion.”
The letter comes as nondisclosure agreements and discussions of sexual harassment in the workplace have become points of contention in the Democratic primary campaign.
Lawsuits discovered by ABC News found that multiple women had stated in legal filings that Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who announced his presidential run last month, fostered a toxic, frat-like culture at his company during the 1990s (Mr. Bloomberg has repeatedly denied these allegations). Five of those lawsuits were settled out of court, and likely included nondisclosure agreements.
On Monday, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was asked whether she thought the women who had made the initial complaints should be released from NDAs. She responded, “Yes, I do.”
“I think NDAs are a way for people to hide bad things they’ve done,” she said. “And I think that women should be able to speak.”
Lift Our Voices highlighted Ms. Warren’s response in their letter as support for their cause.
“We hope that she speaks up about this and responds to our letter in a more holistic way,” Ms. Roginsky said in an interview. “We hope that every other candidate, Democrat, Republican or independent, joins her. This is not a partisan issue, and this should not be a partisan issue. This is not a women’s issue, and it should not just be female candidates who talk about it.”
Last week, Alyssa Milano, the actress and activist, withdrew from a fund-raiser for the campaign of Andrew Yang, saying it was “due to repeated allegations of sexual misconduct against a campaign staffer by a campaign staffer which were not appropriately addressed.”
The Yang campaign later said that it had fired a staffer before Ms. Milano had sent her tweet, though they denied the misconduct was sexual.
Reports of sexual harassment from the 2016 presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont emerged earlier this year before Mr. Sanders announced his 2020 campaign. In interviews with The New York Times, staffers from the 2016 campaign discussed episodes of sexual harassment and demeaning treatment as well as pay disparity.
Mr. Sanders apologized earlier this year and ensured that three top advisers from the 2016 campaign either will not return for the 2020 effort, or would serve in different roles.
A nondisclosure incident also ensnared another candidate, though it was not the type that Lift Our Voices is focused on. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., worked for McKinsey & Co., a consulting firm, after he graduated from Harvard. When other candidates began to demand that he release his client list, Mr. Buttigieg said he was bound by a nondisclosure agreement from doing so.
Eventually, after publicly calling on McKinsey to release him from the NDA, the company complied, and Mr. Buttigieg released his clients.