What’s Wrong and What’s Next – Origins and Effects of #MeToo + Time’s Up

You’ve no doubt become aware of the reckoning that’s going on across the country. It started in Hollywood, but has spread across all industries. Men and women are standing up and speaking out against sexual assault. This issue is particularly important in the workplace, where sexual harassment can push out talent, damage a company’s reputation, and erode the workplace environment.

Here is a brief overview of the two main movements. First, is #MeToo. This was started by a woman named Tarana Burke, but popularized by actress Alyssa Milano when she invited her Twitter followers to hashtag the phrase if they have been the victim of sexual harassment. This social movement was meant to break the silence, letting survivors of sexual harassment and assault know they are not alone. It was meant to demonstrate the magnitude of the problem of sexual violence, and it has certainly done that. About a month and a half after Alyssa Milano first tweeted about #MeToo, there were 1.7 million tweets with the #MeToo and 12 million posts on Facebook with the hashtag.

The other movement is Time’s Up. Anyone watching the Oscars likely noticed several people wearing Time’s Up pins. This movement was meant to touch all industries to combat inequality in the workplace. Time’s Up is more than just an awareness campaign. The people behind Time’s Up have established a Legal Defense Fund that will help defray the costs in select cases for those who have experienced sexual harassment or related retaliation in the work place.

In case anyone doubts that sexual harassment is a problem in the workplace, here are some statistics. It should be noted that sexual harassment doesn’t just happen to women; it’s a problem for men as well. Also significant is how the numbers for harassment and retaliation for women of color are worse than for white women. The following statistics cover only working women in general:

  • A Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll published in November, 2017, reported 48% of working women believed they had been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • A Washington Post article reported that 1/3 of women have received an unwanted sexual advance from a co-worker.
  • 2016 EEOC data indicates that 25-75% of women had been victims of sexual harassment (depending on the phrasing of the survey).
  • According to the same EEOC data, 75% of those women who feel they have been sexually harassed never report it.
  • Combining these numbers suggests there are about 30 million working women who have felt they’ve been victims of sexual harassment but have remained silent.

These statistics show that there is still a lot of confusion surrounding what constitutes sexual assault. As the EEOC data shows, it’s hard to get consistent reporting due to the terminology used.

The data also re-asserts the obvious: workplace harassment is a problem. And it has been a problem for years, but now the difference is that, in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, those 30 million women have a voice.

These social media movements have been successful in empowering victims of sexual assault to speak up in some way. The movement can be credited with holding certain powerful men accountable for harassment who before were considered too big to fall. Beyond that, there are some national changes to look out for:

  1. The EEOC is updating its sexual harassment guidelines for the first time in 20 years. The agency claims it is coincidental to the recent attention sexual harassment is getting. Keep an eye out for that guidance.
  2. As part of the new tax bill, parties can no longer write off the expenses of any confidential settlement that releases sexual harassment claims. Neither the settlement amount nor attorney’s fees are deductible.
  3. Legislation has been proposed that would eliminate an employer’s ability to include mandatory arbitration clauses to govern sexual harassment actions. This means that sexual harassment claims could soon be brought to jury trials instead of through alternative dispute resolution.
  4. It is likely that juries are going to be harsher on defendants in sexual harassment lawsuits. We always hope that juries are as neutral as possible, but every human goes into jury service with his or her underlying biases.
  5. The court of public opinion is certainly harsher.

The powerful numbers of women who have come forward have effected tangible change in the country, and there is likely more to come.