Low-Paid Women Get Money to Fight Harassment

Time's UpAs I've blogged about before,

Thanks to the #MeToo movement, accusations of sexual harassment — especially against powerful men in media and government — are in the news almost every day.

Harassment and discrimination are hardly limited to glamorous and well-paying professions like entertainment and finance.

The New York Times reported that "harassment was endemic... from shipyards to coal mines."

For example, Ford recently settled a sexual and racial harassment suit involving two of its  Chicago plants for $10 million. Back in the 1990s, after lawsuits and an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Ford settled for $22 million and promised to work to fight discrimination.

As the Times reported,

Vox charted industries with the highest reported claims of sexual harassment — and, perhaps not surprisingly, those with the most included accomodation and food services, retail, and manufacturing fields.

Legal Defense Fund

To help fight abuse of working-class women, a group of Hollywood stars and producers started Time's Up and the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund:

The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, which is housed at and administered by the National Women’s Law Center Fund LLC... connects those who experience sexual misconduct including assault, harassment, abuse and related retaliation in the workplace or in trying to advance their careers with legal and public relations assistance. The Fund will help defray legal and public relations costs in select cases based on criteria and availability of funds.

The Fund has raised about $22 million in donations so far. About 2,700 workers have contacted the Fund, including about 9% from the arts industry and 5% from retail jobs.

As the New York Times reports, one of the first lawsuits supported by the Fund was brought by Gina Pitre, a Walmart employee who said her manager "used to touch her inappropriately and make suggestive comments."

Walmart said it had investigated Pitre's complaints and “could not substantiate a violation of our Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy.”

Male-Dominated

Volunteers at the National Women’s Law Center decide which cases to fund based in part on "whether the worker is in a low-wage job or in a male-dominated occupation," according to the Times.

The Fund provides only about $3000 to pay initial lawyer fees, and up to $100,000 in the rare case when a matter goes to trial.

Contingency Cases

Lawyers handling cases of alleged harassment and discrimination commonly work on a contingency basis — they only charge a fee to the client if they're successful in winning a settlement or judgement for the client.

However, lawyers for plaintiffs can only afford to take a limited number of cases on contingency, given the risks involved.

Also, notes the Times, harassment cases face an "uphill battle" in conservative states like Mississippi and few lawyers want to take on such claims, especially against large companies like Walmart.

#TimesUp

Related efforts to fight harassment and discrimination by 300 prominent Hollywood actresses and female agents include:

  • Legislation to penalize companies that tolerate persistent harassment, and to discourage the use of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) to silence victims or harassment.
  • An effort to reach gender parity at studios and talent agencies.
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