What the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund has accomplished in its first year.
One year ago, at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, Hollywood was in shock from the dethroning of Harvey Weinstein. The #MeToo movement was gaining ever more momentum; the Time’s Up movement was gathering its force. Actresses wore black gowns on the red carpet to raise awareness for Time’s Up, and some of them brought activists as their dates.
Now, as the Golden Globes swing back around again, it’s time to look at what the fury of the past year has wrought. To that end, Vox checked in with one of the most concrete achievements of the Time’s Up organization: the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.
Administered by the National Women’s Law Center Fund, the defense fund is dedicated to bringing legal and media assistance to those who have experienced sexual misconduct in the workplace.
While the fund was partially spearheaded by some of the most powerful women in Hollywood (Oprah, Shonda Rhimes, and Reese Witherspoon all made major donations), it was inspired by a letter of solidarity to the women of Hollywood from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Alliance of Farmworker Women), and its focus is on helping women in low-wage professions.
“They have fewer options,” explains Sharyn Tejani, director of the legal defense fund, over the phone with Vox. “They’re often seen as disposable by their employers, who think they can be fired quickly and their replacements hired quickly. They have less chance of knowing how to find resources and fund their cases.”
Over the past year, the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund has raised more than $22 million, $5 million of which it has committed to cases, with another $750,000 going to its 18 outreach grants. “Those grants help people learn about their rights and what resources are out there,” explains Tejani, who says she wants to establish more grants going forward.
The fund has heard from 3,755 people who have sought legal help, and it has 792 lawyers in its network who are willing to offer free initial consultations. It has funded 75 cases so far.
Tejani says that we still need to see major changes in the workplace before the problem of sexual harassment can be fixed. “Employers need to take this issue very seriously,” she says. “They can’t just check a box on training. There has to be real training. They have to take complaints seriously. They need to create a place where employees can safely make their complaints. What we see over and over again with the people who come to us is retaliation, and employers need to take that seriously. Employees need to be able to come forward and feel safe coming forward.”
The threat of retaliation looms large over the conversation about workplace sexual misconduct. In many cases, harassers are able to get away with their behavior because their victims fear that if they come forward, it will be the victims who suffer, not those who harassed them.
In Hollywood, for example, a major case of what appeared to be retaliation surfaced recently in the New York Times’s report on Eliza Dushku’s firing from the CBS show Bull. Dushku was a guest star on the show, and there were concrete plans to make her a series regular — but after Dushku complained that star Michael Weatherly was sexually harassing her, she was fired. (Bull‘s showrunner maintains that Dushku’s removal from the show was not “punitive.”)
But Tejani says that the past year of activism has made her hopeful for the future. “We’ve seen real changes,” she says. “This year for the first time in probably a hundred years, people walked off the job to protest sexual harassment. It happened at two places: McDonald’s and Google. And that’s because this problem crosses industries.”
“These are very different types of workers,” Tejani continues, “but they’re both doing the same thing. They’re saying that they’re not taking this type of thing anymore.”