Understanding Assembly Bill (AB) 933

The #MeToo movement has, over the years, empowered many survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination to speak out about their experiences and seek justice through legal channels. However, survivors have not had it easy. Many survivors have faced retaliation through the alleged perpetrators filing defamation lawsuits against them. While these lawsuits are often meritless, they scare survivors and dissuade some from stepping forward and speaking out. To address this disturbing trend, the California Governor signed Assembly Bill (AB) 933 into law in October 2023. This new law, which went into effect in January 2024, extends the legal definition of privileged communication in defamation lawsuits to include communication about an individual’s experience of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination. 

Retaliatory Defamation Lawsuit

This kind of lawsuit arises when the accused files a defamation suit against the survivor. In a retaliatory defamation lawsuit, the accused claims the allegations against them are false and damaging to their reputation. While most of these lawsuits are meritless and cannot succeed in court, the emotional, financial, and psychological toll of such legal battles can overwhelm survivors, leading to many abandoning the pursuit of justice. Additionally, other survivors who learn of defamation lawsuits may feel discouraged from coming forward and pursuing justice.

AB 933

Assembly Bill (AB) 933 helps survivors in that it expands the definition of privileged communication to include communication made without malice regarding a sexual assault, discrimination, or harassment incident. In California, privileged communications are protected from defamation lawsuits even if the statements have the ability to ruin a person’s reputation. This means that survivors of sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination can pursue legal action without worrying that the alleged perpetrators will file defamation lawsuits against them.

On top of ensuring survivors are able to speak out after being harmed without fear of facing retaliatory defamation lawsuits, AB 933 also allows survivors to recover attorney fees if they succeed in a defamation case brought against them for making a privileged communication. In most defamation cases, this relief is not available. Prevailing defendants can also recover treble and punitive damages.

AB 933 covers all survivors, including employees who have fallen victim to sexual assault, discrimination, or harassment. AB 933 ensures that affected employees are protected from retaliation for coming forward with their experiences. Often, employees choose not to come forward because of the fear of retaliation. Employers are required to communicate the change in the law to employees who indicate they would like to come forward but are scared of retaliation.

How a Lawyer Can Help

Many survivors do not realize that lawyers are available to help. A qualified attorney can help you navigate legal complexities, advocate for your rights, and represent you in legal proceedings. They can help you understand and apply relevant laws, protect you from retaliation, and seek justice through negotiation or litigation. Additionally, an attorney can offer emotional support, which can help you navigate the trauma of your experiences while asserting your rights and reclaiming your voice.   

Contact a California Employment Lawyer

If you have questions or need help with an employment law-related matter, contact a California employment lawyer near you.