Legislation has been introduced in the Missouri General Assembly this session that prohibits nondisclosure agreements as part of legal settlements with the state.
Nondisclosure agreements, often referred to as NDAs, are legal tools that facilitate confidentiality. They prevent a person from publicly discussing a protected or sensitive matter and are commonly used in a variety of legal contexts.
However, they recently have gained notoriety when reports surfaced they were used in connection with sexual misconduct settlements by members of Congress who had harassed their staffs.
Many were shocked to learn that Congress had created a special fund to pay these settlements — all with taxpayer dollars.
The women who received the taxpayer-funded settlements were prohibited from discussing their claims publicly due to the insistence of NDAs. The result was that the public was kept in the dark of the malfeasance of some of its elected officials.
Missouri state Auditor Nicole Galloway said NDAs also have been used to obscure bad behavior by state employees in connection with settling some lawsuits.
A recent audit by her office revealed the state has paid out more than $115 million in legal settlements and judgments against state entities over the past six years.
That total includes more than $9 million paid out in cases involving allegations of workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.
While NDAs serve a legitimate purpose in many legal contexts, there is no legal or policy reason for the use of them to protect government officials, elected or otherwise, who have been accused of misconduct — particularly discrimination or sexual harassment.
Galloway is right when she argues toxic workplace cultures, especially those found in the public workplace, should be dealt in the light — not swept under the rug.
Missourians have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent just as state workers have a right to know what is happening in their workplaces.
The Missouri Legislature should ban taxpayer-funded NDAs.