By Julia O’Donoghue | NOLA.com
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed two new laws this week meant to protect people who complain about sexual harassment and other misconduct from being silenced. Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, sponsored both measures, and they go into effect Aug. 1.
The first will prevent people accused of sexual misconduct from moving forward with lawsuits for slander, defamation or libel against an alleged victim while a complaint is being investigated.
Morrell had said this issue has been coming up at colleges and universities, with a friend at Tulane University advising him on the proposal. He noted a trend among faculty members or other university employees suing students who accuse them of sexual harassment or assault, in an effort to force the student to withdraw their complaint. Most students don’t have enough money to fight such lawsuits, Morrell said.
This new law would allow a person to move forward with a defamation lawsuit eventually, but only after the sexual harassment complaint had been resolved.
The second law will allow a court to throw out a non-disclosure agreement if it prevents someone from talking publicly or sharing information about criminal activity. It will apply to current and future non-disclosure agreements.
The new law will apply non-disclosure agreements covering more than just criminal sexual misconduct, but Morrell said he was inspired to author the legislation because at least one of the young women former USA Gymnastics physician Dr. Larry Nasser abused had signed a non-disclosure agreement about her assault.
Disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, comedian Bill Cosby and conservative television personality Bill O’Reilly all used non-disclosure agreements to keep allegations of sexual harassment and assault quiet for years.
Non-disclosure arrangements have also been in the news because President Donald Trump has reportedly used them often to hide potentially damaging or embarrassing information about him. Specifically, adult-film star Stormy Daniels is fighting to throw out a non-disclosure agreement she signed to keep her quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump before he was in office.
Louisiana’s new law would not have gotten Daniels out of her agreement with Trump, because the contract doesn’t deal with a criminal act and Daniels had said their sexual arrangement was consensual.
Only sexual assault, rape and other crimes kept hidden through a non-disclosure agreement could get the contract thrown out by a judge, Morrell said.