Time’s Up: Fighting the Culture of Sexual Harassment
with Sharyn Tejani of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund with the National Women’s Law Center
The #MeToo movement inspired the creation of "Time's Up" in 2018 — a global movement against sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sharyn Tejani, Director of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fundat the National Women’s Law Center, discusses her work to help survivors of sexual abuse and harassment achieve justice.
February 26, 2021
Anderson: The #MeToo movement was more than just a hashtag. It inspired the creation of Time's Up, a global movement encouraging women to speak out about harassment in the workplace. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Following the arrest and conviction of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a surprising ally in the battle against sexual abuse emerged -- a national alliance of women farmworkers. The women wrote a letter of solidarity that eventually led to the creation of the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund. It's a part of the National Women's Law Center and its director, Sharon Tejani, is here and she is going to talk about all of this. Sharon, thank you so much for being here.
Tejani: Thank you so much for having me, Tetiana.
Anderson: So we've got Hollywood actors and farmworkers. Doesn't necessarily seem like an obvious alliance there, but what do they have in common that really drove the creation of the Legal Defense Fund and what does this all say about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment across all industries?
Tejani: So what happened was these actors came forward about the workplace sex harassment they had endured because of Harvey Weinstein and a group of farmworkers wrote them a letter, saying, "We trust you. We believe you. We know that this happens because it happens so frequently in our industry, too." And so that led to the coming together of workers in all economic areas, in all geographic areas, in all industries, talking about how workplace sex harassment is so commonplace and happens in so many ways and to so many workers. And so there was an outpouring of funds after these people came forward and that money turned into the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund. And, from its start, the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund has been focused on low-paid workers because we know, while workplace sex harassment happens to all types of workers, it's these workers, low-paid workers, that have the hardest time finding legal help and the hardest time paying for legal help. So the coming together of farmworkers and actors, groups that are not normally together, was, in part, because sexual harassment is something that, unfortunately, is so common in so many workplaces that it is actually something that tied these groups together.
Anderson: So the Defense Fund has been in existence for several years, at this point. What sort of mile markers of achievement have you seen?
Tejani: So, since we started, we've helped about 4,800 workers who have come to us looking for connections for lawyers and, for that, people fill in our request for assistance and, if it has to do with workplace sex harassment, we send them the contact information of attorneys in our network. And we have about 600 attorneys in our network and they all agreed to do a first consultation for free with anybody coming through our network. So that's one thing we do. We help people connect with attorneys. Another thing we do is we find cases of workplace sex harassment and for that, attorneys apply to us. We have certain priority criteria that we apply and, if we can fund the case, we do. And we've funded over 250 cases of workplace sex harassment and those have been for all different types of workers, for McDonald's workers, FBI workers, firefighters, mechanics, administrative assistants, retail workers -- pretty much any industry you can think of. We also help with media assistance because we know that, for some people, coming forward publicly is the best way for them to achieve justice. For other people, it might be the only way because they're too late to bring a lawsuit. And, for other people, they want to come forward and talk about what happened to them because they don't want anyone else to feel like they're alone or they're isolated and they want people to know that coming forward can actually help and can happen for people. So we fund media assistance for that reason. And then, we also fund outreach grants. So we fund grants for groups that work with low-paid workers, to help them learn about workplace sex harassment and what they can do about it.
Anderson: How do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic, which we're all living through, has impacted your work and the people you serve?
Tejani: So, interestingly, we have not seen a decline in the number of people coming forward to us. We really thought that there would be, once, you know, people were staying home, but the number of people requesting assistance has stayed pretty constant during this COVID time. I will say that, you know, COVID-19 manages to make everything that's difficult and hard in our society even worse and so what we are seeing is that, you know, because people are isolated, they don't have their support network. And one thing about workplace sex harassment is it is so isolating and, so frequently, people feel like it's their fault. And so we hear stories about people changing what they wear to work or changing how they walk around the office or the workplace, so that they don't have to walk by the harasser's office or workstation. You feel like it's your fault and COVID-19, that isolates everyone, and makes it so hard for people to tap into their regular support networks of find a new support network, makes this all so much more difficult. We also know that sex harassment is about power and so, in a situation like we have now, where there are so many fewer jobs, there's such high unemployment, and people are terrified of losing their employment, that's only going to make it less likely that people are going to come forward and complain about workplace sex harassment because, frequently, when people come forward, they're retaliated against and one of the things we see in retaliation is that people lose their jobs.
Anderson: And, Sharyn, if people want to find out more about your work or more about the organization, where can they go? What's the website?
Tejani: They should go to nwlc.org, which is the National Women's Law Center website, which is where the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund is housed. And, if you go there, you can learn about how to request assistance, how to request connections to attorneys. If you're an attorney, you can learn about how to join our network. You can also learn about how to apply for funding for a legal case or for media assistance.
Anderson: Sharyn Tejani, thank you so much for joining us, from Time's Up Legal Defense Fund.
Tejani: Thank you so much for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, as always, be sure to log on to... I'm Tetiana Anderson.