Former Aide To Tewksbury State Rep. Rips Speaker Over Non-Disclosure Agreements
Mar 19, 2018 05:09AM
● By State House News
After she was called aside mid-speech by the presiding officer during Thursday's House session, Rep. Diana DiZoglio resumed detailing her personal experience with sexual harassment on Beacon Hill. "It is imperative that I tell my story in order to actively ask the members to support this amendment today," she said. [Photo: House Broadcast via SHNS]
On what was supposed to be a day of triumph for House Speaker Robert DeLeo taking tangible action to improve the workplace culture on Beacon Hill, Rep. Diana DiZoglio flipped the script and put the speaker in a rare position – a defensive crouch.
And she had help.
The House gathered on Thursday to debate a package of new rules ordered up by DeLeo after the Legislature fell under the glare of the #metoo spotlight last year. The changes are intended to improve the way the House processes sexual harassment complaints.
Before the changes ultimately passed unanimously, DiZoglio seized the opportunity – coincidentally coming during Sunshine Week – to highlight what she perceived to be an abuse of non-disclosure agreements to silence victims of harassment, and she had more than just anecdotal evidence to share. She had a first-person account.
Prior to her unseating of a veteran House Democrat in 2012, DiZoglio worked as an aide in the building to former Republican state Rep. Paul Adams of Andover, whose district included a portion of Tewksbury.
It was during that time that DiZoglio became a focus of a now infamous story of late-night carousing stemming from a party in the speaker's office after budget debate.
As rumors swirled about what may have transpired in the House chamber between her and state Rep. Mark Cusack, DeLeo's office announced an investigation that ultimately cleared the pair of inappropriate behavior, but damage had already been done.
That much of the story was already known. But what wasn't known until this week was that DiZoglio, after being fired by her boss Paul Adams, was forced by the speaker's office, she said, to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to receive a small severance package.
DiZoglio broke that NDA on Thursday to share her story, and in the process led the speaker to disclose that approximately 33 individuals have signed NDAs in the nine years he has been speaker, though none of those situations, DeLeo said, had anything to do with sexual harassment.
What followed DiZoglio's revelations from the House podium was a rare spectacle on the House floor during which DiZoglio challenged House leadership and battled with her colleagues for time at the microphone with an assist from the longest-serving member of the House.
Rep. Angelo Scaccia, a Hyde Park Democrat who is no favorite of the speaker's, taunted DeLeo from the floor to come out of his office and preside over the session, a duty seldomly performed by the speaker but conspicuously left Thursday for women in his leadership team to handle.
"Mr. Speaker, you've been getting away for too long in this House with the sound of silence," Scaccia said, quoting liberally from the Simon and Garfunkel song with the same title.
Scaccia went so far as to suggest it was time for Attorney General Maura Healey to begin investigating why so many people have had to sign NDAs and how much public money has been spent to shut people up.
Some members, including Reps. Sarah Peake and Marjorie Decker, articulated thoughtful reasons why in some situations non-disclosure agreements might be beneficial to the "aggrieved party," and DeLeo accused DiZoglio and Scaccia of "irresponsible speculation" that his office might be trying to protect some members from a public airing of transgressions.
"I think it's just part of doing business," DeLeo would tell reporters the next day.
If it was DiZoglio's swan song in the House, she made it memorable.
It's known in her district, and to Sen. Kathleen O'Connor Ives, that DiZoglio has been kicking the tires on a possible primary challenge to the Newburyport Democrat for her seat in the Senate. She still has more than a month to decide whether to pull the trigger, but this week might be a sign of the direction she's leaning.
Speaking of leaning, high school students from around the state this week leaned on state lawmakers and gun manufacturers to step up and do more to reduce the risk of gun violence.
A snow day might have ruined their plans to join a national school walkout to show solidarity with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, but it didn't stop hundreds of students from using their day off to march to the State House to push for passage of extreme risk protection order (ERPO) legislation.
Since the shooting in Florida, many state leaders have defaulted to touting the state's already strict gun laws and urging Congress to look to Massachusetts as an example. But this week also showed there are additional things that could be done here, if the political will exists.
In addition to the ERPO bill that would let the courts order the confiscation of guns from individuals deemed a risk, gun manufacturers were put in the crosshairs.
Jay Gonzalez, one of three Democrats running for governor, called for a complete ban on the manufacturing of assault rifles for commercial use in Massachusetts, making his pitch before joining a separate group of students who rallied outside Smith & Wesson's headquarters in Springfield.
Treasurer Deb Goldberg separately teamed up with Rep. Lori Ehrlich and Sen. Cynthia Creem to file legislation that would direct the state's pension fund to divest the approximately $5 million in assets it holds in companies that derive a significant portion of their revenue from the the sale or manufacture, of ammunition, firearms or firearms accessories for civilian use.
Gov. Charlie Baker did not weigh in on the targeting of gun manufacturers, including the direct aim taken at a western Massachusetts employer, but did reiterate his belief that Congress should reinstate a federal assault weapons ban.
The governor also gathered business leaders in his office early in the week to make clear that housing is one of his top priorities this session. With executives from John Hancock and Putnam Investments there to help him make the point, Baker said cutting through red tape at the local level to speed the development of housing is an issue of competitiveness for employers.
Transportation is also an issue around Greater Boston for employers, and the MBTA gave the governor a small assist this week when General Manager Luis Ramirez tabled talk of fare hikes until July 2019, pushing that debate off until at least after the November elections.
The governor's housing bill, along with his opioid abuse prevention legislation, may be Baker's top two priorities at the moment, but climate change adaptation also filled a prominent position on his must-do list this week.
After the third nor'easter in two weeks – this one with significantly more snow – battered Massachusetts, Baker went to a seawall in Scituate to roll out a $1.4 billion bond bill that includes $300 million to pour significant new, borrowed money into dams, seawalls, culverts and watersheds to control the rising tides.
While some of his critics like Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Massie criticized the bill as too little too late, many environmental groups were encouraged by the focus on climate adaption in the environmental bond and hopeful that the Legislature would take it up.