Mike Bloomberg has said he would free three women from confidentiality agreements that bar them from speaking publicly about sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuits filed against him over the last three decades.
The billionaire former mayor of New York also said his company, Bloomberg LP, will no longer use such agreements “to resolve claims of sexual harassment or misconduct going forward”.
His remarks come after days of intense scrutiny over the treatment of women at the company he has led for three decades.
There has also been pressure from Democratic presidential rival Elizabeth Warren to allow the women to share their claims publicly.
Mr Bloomberg did not automatically revoke the agreements but told the women to contact the company if they would like to be released.
The three agreements he is willing to open up relate specifically to comments he is alleged to have made.
His company reportedly faced nearly 40 lawsuits involving 65 plaintiffs between 1996 and 2016, though it is unclear how many relate to sexual harassment or discrimination.
At Wednesday’s debate, Mr Bloomberg called such non-disclosure agreements “consensual” and said women who complained “didn’t like a joke I told”.
The remarks were viewed by some as out-of-touch with the post-#MeToo era, which has prompted far more serious scrutiny of sexual harassment and innuendo by men in the workplace.
Mr Bloomberg is one of the country’s richest men, worth an estimated 60 billion dollars.
It was the first time Mr Bloomberg was truly put on the spot in an otherwise choreographed campaign, where he has been promoting his message via television advertising and scripted speeches rather than debates.
Mr Bloomberg will face his rivals again on Tuesday at a debate in South Carolina.
Mr Bloomberg said in a statement he had done “a lot of reflecting on this issue over the past few days”.
“I recognise that NDAs, particularly when they are used in the context of sexual harassment and sexual assault, promote a culture of silence in the workplace and contribute to a culture of women not feeling safe or supported,” it continued.
One of the women covered by Bloomberg’s announcement is Sekiko Sekai Garrison, 55, who filed a complaint against Mr Bloomberg and his company in 1995.
Ms Garrison’s complaint, reviewed by the Associated Press, was filed when she was about 30 and alleged Mr Bloomberg told her to “kill it” when she told him she was pregnant with her first child.
The lawsuit details several other alleged personal interactions with Mr Bloomberg and describes a misogynistic corporate culture where women were typically paid less than men, subject to routine sexual harassment and demoted or fired if they complained.