Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg struggled to mount a defense against his company’s policy that prevented a number of women from speaking publicly about allegations of harassment at his company, and refused, when pressed, to release those former employees from the nondisclosure agreements they signed.
“I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior that the #MeToo movement has exposed, and anybody that does anything wrong in our company we investigate it and if it’s appropriate, they’re gone that day,” Bloomberg said at the Wednesday night Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas.
Bloomberg attempted to re-frame the issue by citing the multiple women staffers he employs.
“In my foundation, the person that runs it is a woman. Seventy percent of the people there are women,” he said. “In my company, lots and lots of women have big responsibilities, they get paid exactly the same as men. And in city hall, the top person, my deputy mayor was a woman and 40 percent of my commissioners were women.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who pressed Bloomberg on the agreements, did not find that explanation adequate.
“I hope you heard what his defense was: ‘I’ve been nice to some women.’ That just doesn’t cut it,” she replied. “The mayor has to stand on his record and what we need to know is exactly what is lurking out there.”
Warren then asked Bloomberg to release those former employees from their NDA agreements, but the former New York mayor refused to relent.
“We have a very few nondisclosure agreements, none of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told. These were agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet and that’s up to them,” he said. “They’ve signed those agreements and we’ll live with it.”
Warren continued to push on the issue. “The question is, are the women bound by being muzzled by you?” she asked. “And you could release them from that immediately?”
Former Vice President Joe Biden jumped in, harshly criticizing Bloomberg and accusing him of paying those employees hush money.
“All the mayor has to do is say, ‘You are released from the nondisclosure agreements. Period. We talk about transparency here,” said Biden. “The way it works is, women say, ‘This is what you did to me,’ then the mayor comes along and his attorney says, ‘I will give you this amount of money if you promise you’ll never say anything.”
Bloomberg did not address Warren or Biden’s criticism directly, and instead repeated he would not dissolve the agreements.
“They were made consensually,” he said, “and they have every right to expect that they will stay private.”
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