Buying Secrecy: Non-Disclosure Agreements, Arbitration, and Professional Ethics in the #MeToo Era
39 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2020 Last revised: 17 May 2021
Date Written: 2021
We’ve heard the horrific reports of sexual assault on children, women, and men, in the context of the workplace, Hollywood, sports, and even sacred places. Now. But often these incidents took place many years ago, and we are just learning why and how. Secret settlements. Deals reached in private to buy secrecy in exchange for the release and dismissal of claims. Oftentimes through private and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes such negotiation, mediation, or arbitration. In most cases, the parties were represented by lawyers, loyal advocates, who are also officers of the court; third-party neutrals serving as mediators or arbitrators administered the dispute resolution process. While the immediate cases were privately resolved, the accused harasser/predator remained at large. This paper examines the role, use, and possible misuse or complicity of lawyers, neutrals, and ADR in the process of procuring and enforcing “secret settlements” in cases that effectively shielded predators, harassment, and other misconduct and left similarly situated non-parties at risk. This Article examines the existing rules, structures, and rationales for confidentiality and private dispute resolution, alongside the ethical considerations for lawyers, neutrals, and the ADR process in reaching and enforcing “secret settlements.” The paper explores the legal and ethical considerations for the professionals involved in situations where a secret settlement or provision for non-disclosure leaves similarly situated non-parties at risk. The Article counsels that lawyers, neutrals, and ADR consider the impact on others and protection of vulnerable persons from potential harm as professional ethics obligations in the advocacy and representation of parties to private settlements in order to ensure integrity of people, process, and substantive outcomes.
Keywords: arbitration, NDA, non-disclosure agreement, #metoo, professional ethics, ADR, confidentiality, secret settlement
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