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President's Message - May 2018
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“#MeToo, #TimesUp, and the Need for Lawyers to Stand Up!”
By Olga Álvarez

In response to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Lawyers Club has created a Sexual Harassment Task Force led by co-chairs Jennifer Rubin and Alreen Haeggquist to address the sexual harassment issues that women face in the legal field and to create avenues in which Lawyers Club can assist all women to combat sexual harassment.

The #MeToo movement re-emerged in October 2017 after Actress Ashley Judd accused media mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. In support of Judd, Actress Alyssa Milano tweeted that anyone who had been sexually harassed or abused should type #MeToo. However, the actual “Me Too” movement was started in 2006 by Tarana Burke, an African American woman who wanted to help women who had survived sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low-income communities, find pathways to healing.

In January 2018, more than 300 women in Hollywood formed an anti-harassment coalition and legal defense fund called Time’s Up. These women were not only inspired to act by the sexual harassment stories in their industry, but also by an open letter of solidarity from 700,000 Latina farmworkers of the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas that highlighted the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in their workplace. Whether in Hollywood or in the California fields, women from all walks of life experience sexual abuse and harassment. Time’s Up established a legal defense fund, to be administered by the National Women’s Law Center, to provide subsidized support to women and men who have experienced sexual harassment, assault or abuse in the workplace or while pursuing their careers.

With these movements in mind, Lawyers Club is committed to being a vehicle for change and to finding solutions related to sexual harassment and sexual violence. We acknowledge that abuse is painful, not easily forgotten, and that there are varying degrees of harassment and abuse. We commit to being sensitive to those distinctions as we move forward.

But what can Lawyers Club do to create solutions and change the current system? Although women are inspired and summoning the courage to report, it is not clear in some industries to whom these women should report. Here are some of the issues that Lawyers Club hopes to address:

Sexual Harassment Training: Trainings are booming but may not be effective. California has required sexual harassment trainings for years, and those have led to off-the-shelf videos or ineffective trainings that insulate companies from lawsuits by demonstrating that they had taken measures to prevent harassment. But these superficial tutorials perpetuate the problem because they do not address the cultural norms of the organization that lie at the heart of sexual harassment. The most effective training is expensive with small-group sessions that include a deep review of organizational culture, procedures, and frequent follow-up.

Termination: As women begin to stand up for themselves and discuss even filing claims of sexual harassment, they are fired. Witnesses are fired.

Repeat Offender: There is no consensus on how to report repeat offenders who go from job to job.
Self-employed Workers: Many domestic workers are self-employed and have no colleagues, no human resources department, and no employment policies. To whom or how do they complain about the sexual propositions or abuse?

Low-wage Employers: Despite the growth of the anti-sexual harassment movement a number of low-wage employers have not taken new steps in recent months to prevent harassment.

Federal Law Gaps: Federal law covers only workplaces with 15 or more employees and the federal statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit can be as short as 180 days. Damages are also capped at $300,000.

Women in Power: Many believe that having more women in power will change the dynamic.

Educating Employees: All employees need to understand their rights, the policies of their company, and the reporting methods to file a valid claim.

Organizational Culture: Trainings alone cannot change culture unless all decision-makers take a stand that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. We need to begin to move in that direction.

Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund: Provide a list of lawyers willing to assist in representing those covered by the fund.

This is a great time to be a lawyer! We are equipped with the knowledge, talent and skills to change our world and advance the status of women in the law and society by confronting the sexual harassment issue from all angles. Each lawyer can make a difference. Join us and contact the Sexual Harassment Task Force to lend your voice and lead on this issue.

Olga Álvarez is co-founder and shareholder of Heisner Álvarez, APC in La Jolla. She is a Certified Legal Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law and is president of Lawyers Club.
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