- California Senate
A California state senator is hoping to create a new law that would punish sexual harassment by venture capitalists.
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, is introducing a bill this week that would explicitly prohibit sexual harassment by venture capitalists as an amendment to a current civil-rights law.
The bill, SB 224, comes in response to accounts from female tech entrepreneurs who have described being sexually harassed while seeking funding from venture capitalists.
The bill would amend the Unruh Act, a civil-rights law in California that protects against sexual harassment in business relationships. The law lists doctors, landlords, teachers, and others as liable for sexual harassment. The bill would amend the law to clarify that consequences exist for investors too and provide protections for entrepreneurs who are harassed.
“If we want to see the venture capital industry change and an end to sexual harassment of women in technology, we need strong legal protections,” Jackson said in a statement. “No matter how well intentioned, decency pledges and promises are not enough.”
Jackson was referring to a public plea made by Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn founder who is a partner at the venture-capital firm Greylock Partners, that asked firms to sign a Decency Pledge, a promise to treat the relationship between a VC and an entrepreneur like that between a manager and an employee.
Hoffman proposed the idea after dozens of women came forward in recent weeks with accounts of being sexually harassed while seeking funding for their ideas and startups. Prominent investors like Dave McClure of 500 Startups and Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital have resigned following such allegations.
But self-regulation like a decency pledge isn’t the same as introducing legal protection.
“We need to be clear there are consequences for this type of behavior,” Jackson said. “The idea is to take a very strong position, and make it very clear that this is the kind of intersection between power and opportunity where we are not going to tolerate sexual harassment.”
Jackson says the response to the bill has been overwhelmingly positive. Because the current legislative session ends soon, in September, she plans to move the bill forward when the legislation reconvenes in January and expects to have a vote on it by the end of that month.