Boston Globe Investigation Shows Mass. State Agencies Continue to Use Gag Orders

After reviewing more than 150 large severance and settlement packages signed by state agencies since 2005, the Boston Globe has found that at least 16 agencies included gag orders in the agreements. The investigation revealed that more than half of the agreements obtained by the Globe included a confidentiality or non-disparagement clause, and one in five contained both. These clauses require former employees to refrain from making negative statements about their respective agencies or to not speak to anyone about the details of their payments.

While such a practice can be common within the private sector, the Globe and other watchdog groups have taken issue with state agencies not practicing transparency when it comes to how they are spending taxpayer money.

[C]ritics contend the agreements can be used to cover up questionable spending, muffle legitimate criticism of government agencies, or hide wrongdoing by public officials, such as the harassment alleged by the UMass and Highway Department workers.

“When it comes to public money, I think there is no justification for being able to secretly spend money,’’ said Boston attorney Harvey Schwartz, who has represented former state government employees with job disputes. “The only reason to have a confidentiality agreement is to protect the agency and the wrongdoers.’’

Because of the secret nature of these agreements, many departments redacted employee names and other relevant information. The Globe has sued the Patrick administration and two other state agencies for that information, arguing that the redactions are in violation of the public’s right to know. The case is before the Suffolk Superior Court, which has yet to rule.

View the severance and settlement agreements obtained through a public records request by the Globe.

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