WASHINGTON, D.C. – A political advocacy group founded by Bernie Sanders entered into a nondisclosure agreement with an African American political consultant that bars her from discussing a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination at the organization and the Vermont senator's 2016 presidential campaign.
The consultant, Tezlyn Figaro, confirmed the existence of the nondisclosure agreement to The Associated Press without providing additional details.
The deal is tied to a 2019 lawsuit in which Figaro said she was fired from the Sanders-created political group Our Revolution a year earlier due to her race and in “retaliation for complaining about the organization’s treatment towards her and African-Americans.” The lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. Though the lawsuit was aimed at Our Revolution, it included broad criticism of Sanders' campaign, arguing an all-white leadership staff “was accused of racism” by black staffers and failed to engage black voters.
Nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs, have become common in presidential campaigns and political organizations in recent years as tools to guard against the release of private data, strategic conversations or other proprietary information. But such deals have become increasingly controversial as people alleging that they're victims of sexual harassment and misconduct or, in Figaro's case, racial discrimination have said they're prevented from publicly sharing their stories.
Billionaire Mike Bloomberg, one of Sanders' Democratic presidential race rivals, has faced criticism for the use of nondisclosure agreements at his company in cases related to sexual harassment. The former New York mayor has said he's willing to release three women from nondisclosure agreements related to comments he was accused of making in the past.
Sanders has acknowledged the mistreatment of women and minorities who worked on his 2016 campaign, and his advisers say they've taken corrective measures for his second run. Now the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders frequently says he is building a “multiracial, multi-generational movement” that will appeal to the broad coalition needed to win the primary and defeat President Donald Trump.
But legal experts say that argument could be undermined by a nondisclosure agreement that prevents a woman of color who has criticized Sanders' record on race from talking about her experience.
“Anyone running for the presidency should be accountable to the electorate, and we should have access to the full set of information,” said Debra S. Katz, a prominent employment attorney in Washington who has donated to Elizabeth Warren's campaign. "If the allegations are about his campaign and running a racist operation, he should direct this organization to let her out of those non-disparagement obligations and talk about it.”