During debate on proposed legislation addressing issues related to sexual harassment in the Massachusetts legislature (known formally as the General Court), Democratic Party member Representative Diana DiZoglio gave a speech that put House leaders in a very awkward position.
DiZoglio told the chamber how when working as a member of staff for a state representative in 2011, DiZoglio had been forced by the office of House Speaker Robert DeLeo to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) following her own sexual harassment experience.
Pressured into a non-disclosure agreement
De Leo denies that his office had knowledge of Diana DiZoglio’s claims of sexual harassment when it allegedly occurred seven years ago, but DiZoglio strongly refutes the denial.
In 2011, while working as chief of staff for former Representative Paul Adams, DiZoglio attending a late-night party in the Speaker’s office. During the party she entered the House chamber with Representative Mark Cusack. The chamber was open, and people were coming and going during their time there. Still, after the two were discovered together by a security guard, an investigation was launched. No wrongdoing was found to have been committed, but DiZoglio found herself the object of much unwanted attention when the State House gossip mill went into overdrive.
DiZoglio’s was called names behind her back, propositioned, and found her sex life had suddenly become a topic of public conversation. Even after the investigation found her innocent her harassment continued unabated.
DiZoglio’s boss, Rep. Adams, told her he had not wanted her to attend the party in the first place, and was very unhappy with the way the gossip was reflecting on his office. He decided DiZoglio had to go.
At this point DiZoglio says she spoke to the Speaker’s office about both the sexual harassment and being pressured to leave her job. Later she involved a lawyer who sought compensation for wrongful dismissal.
De Leo claims that it was only on this last issue, wrongful dismissal, that his office engaged with DiZoglio and he was unaware of the sexual harassment claims. For this to be true, the the Speaker of the House would have had to be unaware of a major topic of gossip that had engulfed the State House for weeks, and negotiated with DiZoglio’s attorney for a settlement without enquiring about Rep. Adams’ reasons for dismissing her. This seems unlikely.
Whether Speaker De Leo knew about the torment DiZoglio was enduring or not, his office did insert a sweeping “non-disparagement” clause in the severance agreement which read, “The Employee shall not make any false, disparaging, or derogatory statements to any media outlet . . . industry group, financial institution or current or former employee, vendor, consultant, client, of the House regarding the House or any of its members, employees, agents or representatives.”
In exchange, DiZoglio was offered six weeks pay, which as a young person who was losing her job she was not in a positon to turn down. The downside was after signing the agreement she was prevented from talking to anyone about the torment she had endured, even family and loved ones who could offer her much-needed emotional support.
Diana DiZoglio begins to speak out
If Speaker De Leo really did not know about the horrible treatment DiZoglio endured at the time, the non-disclosure agreement appeared to ensure he never would.
But then DiZoglio became a member of the House herself in 2013, which according to the Massachusetts state constitution, gave her legislative immunity inside the House chamber. And then the sudden cultural shift wrought by the #MeToo campaign brought the issue back to the fore.
Now that the story is out in the open, DiZoglio is finally able to speak openly about her ordeal, and the pernicious nature of NDAs.
Speaking in an interview on Boston CBS affiliate WBZ, she explained how NDAs are used to enable bad behavior:
“These documents are used very often by people in power, to hide assault, to hide harassment … They empower the perpetrator and allow them to very easily move from victim to victim.”
And although the recent legislation does improve the situation for future sexual harassment claimants, DiZoglio thinks there is more to do.
“We did pass an amendment that did say the only time that a non-disclosure agreement could be used if it’s requested by the victim, and that’s tremendous. However, we need to look at the use of taxpayer dollars as it pertains to being able to protect the misdeeds of politicians and their staff.”
In another interview with WGBH DiZoglio was asked if any of her harassers were still working in the State House, to which she replied, “I believe so, yes.”
When asked if this included any elected officials, DiZoglio declined to name anyone but instead said, “I didn’t come forward to accuse or attack anybody. I came forward to make sure that the policies change.”
Although she is making waves among the powerful on Beacon Hill, Diana DiZoglio’s political future looks bright. Just today Kathleen O’Connor Ives, who represents a similar district as DiZoglio’s in the Massachusetts Senate, announced she will not be running for reelection this Fall. DiZoglio intends to enter the race for the upper chamber seat.