Country singer advocates for Tennessee anti-harassment bill

A country music singer is speaking out in support of a proposed bill in Tennessee that would provide better protections against sexual harassment to those working in the music industry.

Singer-songwriter Katie Armiger spoke Monday about her own experiences of harassment after coming to Nashville to start her career.

"I had an opportunity to have a career in an industry that I love, country music, from the ages of 14 to 24," Armiger said. "And I was fortunate enough to be able to sing and perform all across the country. But in the last three years, after having been exposed to many different uncomfortable situations over much of my time as an artist, I felt pressure to choose between my self-worth and respect, or performing."

Armiger is fighting a lawsuit from her former label Cold River Records, which sued last year alleging she failed to comply with the terms of a settlement negotiated after a previous lawsuit. In her response to the suit, she claims she was sexually harassed by unidentified radio broadcasters. Officials from the label say they didn't know about the harassment.

"While Cold River is not familiar with the specifics of the proposed legislation or Ms. Armiger's testimony, it agrees with and generally supports the proposed legislation's spirit," said Robert A. Peal, an attorney for the label. "Cold River's lawsuit with Ms. Armiger, however, concerns a contractual dispute unrelated to these issues."

Armiger did not mention Cold River specifically during her legislative testimony, but said she was told sexual harassment was just part of being in the music business.

"I was a teenager dealing with radio programmers touching me under tables at industry events and making inappropriate sexual remarks," Armiger said. "I was instructed not only to tolerate it, but to encourage it."

Armiger said being a musician signed to a record label "is a relatively undefined position," because the musician is not considered an employee. The bill would allow a person under contract to bring a sexual-harassment action the same way an employee can.

The entertainment industry has been grappling with allegations of sexual misconduct in the wake of movements like #MeToo, but Armiger said the country music industry has remained relatively quiet on the issue. Even so, she said she sees some change.

"When I started out in country music over 10 years ago, it was something that was not talked about in any capacity," Armiger said. "I have definitely seen a change, especially in the last year or so, with women actually talking about it. It might not be in a public setting like others would wish for it to be. But it is something that is being talked about and it is something that everybody is acknowledging needs to be changed. And I think that the more that happens, the more likely that real change is possible."

The House version of the bill will be heard by the House Human Resources subcommittee on Wednesday.