‘ We­in­stein ef­fect’ may see spike in sex charges

Law of­fices’ phones are ‘ ring­ing off the hook’

Chicago Sun-Times - - NATION - Heidi M. Przy­byla

WASH­ING­TON— Phones are ring­ing off the hooks in law of­fices through­out the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. And lawyers can thank Har­vey We­in­stein for that.

In­quiries to law firms have been ris­ing since ha­rass­ment and as­sault al­le­ga­tions about the Hol­ly­wood film ex­ec­u­tive were first re­ported in early Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to three Wash­ing­ton at­tor­neys who spe­cial­ize in em­ploy­ment law and sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Ris­ing in­ter­est in pur­su­ing ha­rass­ment charges comes af­ter a decade in which the num­ber of al­le­ga­tions had been on steady de­cline, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral fig­ures.

The num­ber of sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaints filed with the Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion in 2016 was 6,758, 15% lower than in 2010. That small to­tal sug­gests that cases are vastly un­der- re­ported, ac­cord­ing to the EEOC, which takes in ap­prox­i­mately 90,000 com­plaints a year for all work­force vi­o­la­tions. The num­ber might start to rise. “There’s not a lawyer do­ing the kind of work we do whose phone is not ring­ing off the hook,” said De­bra Katz of Katz, Mar­shall & Banks. “Women have got­ten to a place where it’s much safer to stand up to it and em­ploy­ers are more con­cerned about dam­age to brand.”

Said her law part­ner Lisa Banks: “There’s the ‘ We­in­stein ef­fect’ now. The more women— and some men— are speak­ing up, reg­u­lar em­ploy­ees in in­dus­tries across the board have felt em­bold­ened to come for­ward.”

The EEOC says it’s too soon to com­pare the num­ber of com­plaints filed since early Oc­to­ber to pre­vi­ous months. “I don’t think we’re go­ing to know that for an­other six months,” said Vic­to­ria Lip­nic, act­ing chair of the EEOC. Many of the ac­cusers are younger peo­ple who “don’t think to them­selves, ‘ I’m go­ing to avail my­self of this gov­ern­ment agency that en­forces the law.’ ”

An EEOC in 2016 re­port found 70% of peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced ha­rass­ment never talked with a su­per­vi­sor or union rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Yet there’s anec­do­tal ev­i­dence of an in­creas­ing in­ter­est in the topic. The av­er­age num­ber of vis­its to the EEOC sex­ual ha­rass­ment web­site dou­bled af­ter the We­in­stein story broke in early Oc­to­ber, up to an av­er­age of 2,156 a day by the end of the month. The agency also has re­ceived hun­dreds of in­quiries about a new work­place train­ing pro­gram that cov­ers ha­rass­ment.

Over the past month, there has been a five­fold in­crease in the num­ber of calls to the Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter, which is dis­sem­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion about the le­gal def­i­ni­tion of ha­rass­ment, said Emily Martin, a NWLC vice pres­i­dent who is con­nect­ing call­ers with at­tor­neys.

The lawyers in­ter­viewed by USA TODAY say the roots of back­lash are much deeper than the We­in­stein story.

The # MeToo cam­paign that’s en­cour­ag­ing women from all walks of life to share their sto­ries of ha­rass­ment, abuse and rape on so­cial me­dia had been go­ing on for years be­fore movie stars in­clud­ing Alyssa Mi­lano be­gan us­ing the Twit­ter hash­tag in re­sponse to the rev­e­la­tions about We­in­stein.

The EEOC also had been em­pha­siz­ing the is­sue through a task force formed in 2016. The 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign also brought new at­ten­tion to sex­ual as­sault with the re­lease of the 2005 Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood tape of then- can­di­date Don­ald Trump talk­ing about grab­bing women’s gen­i­tals.

Then along came We­in­stein, the Hol­ly­wood mogul who be­came the lat­est in a string of high- pro­file men, in­clud­ing Fox News’s Roger Ailes, to vault work­place ha­rass­ment to the fore­front of na­tional dis­course.

“They feel the pub­lic is be­hind them, whereas they­may not have felt that be­fore. They would be blamed or ac­cused of wrong­do­ing them­selves,” said Banks.

“This is re­ally an ex­tra­or­di­nary teach­ing mo­ment for our na­tion,” said De­bra Ness, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Part­ner­ship for Women & Fam­i­lies. “We are in an en­vi­ron­ment where the peo­ple com­ing for­ward rather than be­ing at­tacked or vil­lainized, what we are see­ing is that their sto­ries are be­ing ac­corded grav­ity.”

Said Linda Cor­reia, an em­ploy­ment part­ner at Cor­reia & Puth in Wash­ing­ton, “The vic­tim- blam­ing is over.”

Har­vey We­in­stein

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.