#MeToo has changed laws, com­pa­nies and pop cul­ture

But work­place gains ap­pear lim­ited, and back­lash may prove a big­ger prob­lem

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - MONEY - Con­tribut­ing: Jorge Or­tiz Charisse Jones

What has changed at work in the year since sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions against Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein turned “#MeToo” into a ral­ly­ing cry for a gen­er­a­tion?

A few ex­am­ples: McDon­ald’s work­ers walked off the job in a demon­stra­tion aimed at fight­ing ha­rass­ment in their restau­rants. Pow­er­ful men, from celebrity chef Mario Batali to CBS CEO Les Moonves, con­tinue to be purged from po­si­tions for al­leged preda­tory be­hav­ior. Laws have been passed in places like Cal­i­for­nia and New York state aimed at train­ing and aware­ness. Cor­po­ra­tions have al­tered poli­cies, in­clud­ing Mi­crosoft’s move to al­low em­ploy­ees who pre­vi­ously had con­tracts with ar­bi­tra­tion clauses to seek reme­dies in open court.

But there has also been a back­lash: com­plaints that the move­ment has gone astray, putting men at risk of pun­ish­ments that go too far; con­cern among hu­man re­sources and other ex­perts that women may have a harder time land­ing cer­tain po­si­tions as some pow­er­ful men claim they are afraid to hold one-on-one meet­ings with fe­male col­leagues; women of color and those who earn low wages who have com­plained that the move­ment hasn’t ad­e­quately ad­dressed their con­cerns.

And as the first cases filed in the #MeToo era have their day in court, it re­mains to be seen if the many fight­ing such mis­treat­ment far from the spot­light will ul­ti­mately get jus­tice.

“I’m not see­ing any eas­ier path for women to get to le­gal reme­dies as a re­sult of the #MeToo move­ment,” said Laura Noble, an at­tor­ney who works with the Time’s Up Le­gal De­fense Fund and whose North Carolina-based firm had a 500 per­cent in­crease in calls about sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the last three months of 2017.

“Some jury con­sul­tants will tell you that it’s neg­a­tively af­fect­ing ha­rass­ment claimants be­cause of this per­cep­tion that the #MeToo move­ment’s gone too far,” Noble said. “So I think the next six, 12, 18 months, when th­ese ver­dicts come back ... we’ll have a bet­ter sense of where the pub­lic re­ally is.”

Head­line-grab­bing mo­ments

It has been a year since dozens of al­le­ga­tions against We­in­stein sparked a wrench­ing con­ver­sa­tion about abuse and as­sault in the na­tion’s of­fices, fac­to­ries and fields.

Since then, the head­line-grab­bing mo­ments have in­cluded the fir­ings of me­dia heavy­weights like Char­lie Rose, Matt Lauer and Kevin Spacey. In Septem­ber, CBS CEO Moonves re­signed in the wake of sev­eral ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct, and Bill Cosby was sent to prison af­ter be­ing con­victed of three counts of ag­gra­vated in­de­cent as­sault.

One of the most fraught flash­points of the #MeToo pe­riod oc­curred last month, when Chris­tine Blasey Ford told the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee she had been sex­u­ally as­saulted by Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Ka­vanaugh when they were teenagers.

“We cer­tainly have moved into a new era,” said Tarana Burke, who cre­ated #MeToo more than a decade be­fore it burst into the na­tional con­scious­ness.

“A mo­ment doesn’t last for a year, and it doesn’t in­flu­ence pol­icy and pop cul­ture,” Burke said. “We will never not know about the depths of sex­ual vi­o­lence, and we’ll never not have lan­guage to talk about our ex­pe­ri­ence with sex­ual vi­o­lence, be­cause of #MeToo.”

#MeToo has re­ver­ber­ated in other ways. In Jan­uary, Hol­ly­wood lu­mi­nar­ies launched Time’s Up, an or­ga­ni­za­tion whose Le­gal De­fense Fund has raised more than $22 mil­lion to as­sist men and women who’ve been sex­u­ally ha­rassed or vi­o­lated on the job. As of last week, it had re­ceived 3,557 re­quests for help.

And law­mak­ers from New York to Cal­i­for­nia have green­lighted leg­is­la­tion that in­cludes mea­sures to make an­ti­ha­rass­ment train­ing manda­tory and bars em­ploy­ers from com­pelling staffers to sign waivers that block them from pur­su­ing their ha­rassers.

But there has also been an ad­verse re­ac­tion, with crit­ics con­tend­ing that the move­ment has painted a spec­trum of be­hav­ior, from a lewd joke to out­right as­sault, with the same puni­tive brush. A Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll con­ducted in Fe­bru­ary and March re­vealed that 51 per­cent of Amer­i­cans be­lieve the in­creased fo­cus on sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault has made it more dif­fi­cult for men to know how to in­ter­act with women at work.

Oth­ers say women of color and lowwage work­ers who are most sus­cep­ti­ble to sex­ual ha­rass­ment have been rel­e­gated to the side­lines, their sto­ries largely ig­nored by me­dia fix­ated on vic­tims who are af­flu­ent, fa­mous and white.

As of Sept. 11, 28 per­cent of women and 9 per­cent of men said they have been sex­u­ally ha­rassed at work, ac­cord­ing to a study by Com­pa­ra­bly.com, a work­place cul­ture and com­pen­sa­tion mon­i­tor­ing site.

As a grow­ing num­ber of busi­nesses be­gin to ex­am­ine their poli­cies, some ma­jor com­pa­nies and in­dus­tries have drawn at­ten­tion to their at­tempts to pre­vent sex­ual abuses and make it eas­ier to fight back when they oc­cur.

In De­cem­ber, Mi­crosoft said it was get­ting rid of the ar­bi­tra­tion clause in sex­ual ha­rass­ment and gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion cases for the fewer than 1 per­cent of its em­ploy­ees who had such pro­vi­sions in their em­ploy­ment agree­ments. That month, Face­book made its anti-sex­ual-ha­rass­ment pol­icy pub­lic.

And while the ho­tel in­dus­try had be­gun to take steps to com­bat ha­rass­ment be­fore the rise of #MeToo, in Septem­ber, the Amer­i­can Ho­tel & Lodg­ing As­so­ci­a­tion and sev­eral ma­jor com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Hilton, Mar­riott and Hy­att an­nounced a pledge to en­sure ho­tel work­ers through­out the U.S. have safety de­vices nearby to ward off sex­ual as­sault and other crimes by 2020.

”Every in­dus­try should be look­ing at them­selves and ask­ing, ‘What more can we do?’ ” said Kather­ine Lu­gar, AHLA’s pres­i­dent and CEO, not­ing that cul­tural ex­pec­ta­tions have changed.

Busi­nesses are in some ways mov­ing at a faster clip than law­mak­ers, said Joan Fife, a la­bor and em­ploy­ment lit­i­ga­tor and part­ner at Win­ston & Strawn.

“I’m sure that many peo­ple would have ex­pected there to be more prompt leg­is­la­tion passed and signed into law on both the state and the fed­eral level,” Fife said. “I think that com­pa­nies have re­sponded much more quickly . ... Go­ing for­ward vol­un­tar­ily, with­out wait­ing for the law to change, that’s how best prac­tices are cre­ated.”

How­ever, there has been a push on the leg­isla­tive front as well. New York state ap­proved leg­is­la­tion in March that re­quires all state con­trac­tors as of Jan. 1 to sub­mit a dec­la­ra­tion that they have a sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­icy that ad­heres to at least min­i­mum cri­te­ria and that they have trained all their staff mem­bers. All pub­lic and pri­vate em­ploy­ers must also have such a pol­icy in place and give a copy of it along with yearly train­ing to every worker as of Oct. 9.

Cal­i­for­nia has passed a hand­ful of bills in­spired or spurred by the #MeToo move­ment. They in­clude leg­is­la­tion that says be­fore an em­ployer in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try can re­ceive a per­mit to hire a mi­nor, un­der­age per­form­ers be­tween ages 14 and 17 and their par­ent must un­dergo train­ing in how to pre­vent sex­ual ha­rass­ment and be told of where they can go to re­port such an of­fense. An­other new law will re­quire lob­by­ists to get train­ing on the state’s anti-ha­rass­ment poli­cies.

But much more needs to be done, ad­vo­cates and sur­vivors say. And some have voiced spe­cific con­cerns that the move­ment has failed to ad­e­quately ad­dress the more lay­ered chal­lenges faced by work­ing-class women, women of color and black women in par­tic­u­lar.

“Most peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence sex­ual ha­rass­ment at work are not be­ing ha­rassed by some­body fa­mous,” said Emily Martin, vice pres­i­dent for ed­u­ca­tion and work­place jus­tice at the Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter. “I would say that the pri­mary con­cern for all of us is what is the re­sponse avail­able to those women and men who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ha­rass­ment by some­one who isn’t fa­mous?”

Broader change needed

Many ad­vo­cates be­lieve root­ing out ha­rass­ment means also ad­dress­ing broader is­sues of gen­der in­equity in the work­place.

On Sun­day, Cal­i­for­nia’s Gov. Jerry Brown signed a land­mark bill that will re­quire all pub­licly traded busi­nesses with head­quar­ters in the state to have at least one woman di­rec­tor on their boards by the end of next year. They will need at least two by the end of 2021.

But while a few other states have ap­proved non­bind­ing res­o­lu­tions with a sim­i­lar goal of reach­ing gen­der di­ver­sity, Cal­i­for­nia is the only state to ad­dress the is­sue with a spe­cific law. And women in the work­place con­tinue to lag be­hind, from pay to pro­mo­tions.

Women over­all earn on av­er­age roughly 80 cents for every dol­lar brought home by a man, with black and Latina women even fur­ther be­hind. And there were 24 fe­male CEOs among the For­tune 500 as of 2018, ac­cord­ing to For­tune mag­a­zine, down from 32 last year and the same num­ber as in 2014.

Yet few Amer­i­cans are con­fi­dent one bat­tle will ben­e­fit the other.

Pew Re­search found that 28 per­cent of Amer­i­cans be­lieved more at­ten­tion on sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault would even­tu­ally in­crease pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties for women, while 51 per­cent said it wouldn’t do much ei­ther way, and 20 per­cent said it would ac­tu­ally hurt their chances.

And Burke said that with so much work to be done to ad­dress sex­ual vi­o­lence, from work­place ha­rass­ment to child abuse, ad­vo­cates must be care­ful not to push too many is­sues un­der the #MeToo um­brella.

The vig­or­ous de­bate rag­ing across the coun­try about Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion has also fed con­cerns that there is of­ten an un­fair rush to judge­ment of those ac­cused of sex­ual abuses.

Ac­cord­ing to Pew, though 50 per­cent of Amer­i­cans be­lieve men go­ing un­pun­ished for ha­rass­ing and sex­u­ally ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior on the job is a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem – and 46 per­cent think women who make such ac­cu­sa­tions not be­ing be­lieved is a ma­jor is­sue – 34 per­cent think the ac­cused be­ing fired pre­ma­turely is a sig­nif­i­cant con­cern. Slightly more than 3 in 10 also see false ac­cu­sa­tions as be­ing very prob­lem­atic.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Tues­day that “it’s a very scary time for young men in Amer­ica.”

But ad­vo­cates say that for too long, the ac­cused have got­ten a much greater ben­e­fit of the doubt than their al­leged vic­tims.

“We are a coun­try of laws, and I think we will al­ways give peo­ple their day in court,” said Nina Shaw, an at­tor­ney and Time’s Up found­ing mem­ber. “But we’re com­ing from a sys­tem where for cen­turies the voices of the vic­tim­ized and abused were never heard . ... It’s so ironic when I hear peo­ple say we are we mov­ing too fast.”

PHO­TOS BY GETTY IM­AGES

Peo­ple protest sex­ual ha­rass­ment at a #MeToo rally out­side Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel on Dec. 9.

Bill Cosby, Brett Ka­vanaugh and Har­vey We­in­stein are among the pow­er­ful men who’ve re­cently been ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault, though the re­sults for hold­ing them ac­count­able have been mixed, ad­vo­cates say, and don’t reach far enough into so­ci­ety.

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