This Thanksgiving weekend after eating a huge meal, I went upstairs to my bedroom to read She Said, the book by the two New York Times reporters who blew the lid off the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal and inadvertently started the Me Too movement. I began reflecting about what I read and what we have learned the past two years. Like many of you I feel like this movement has helped a lot of women come out of the wood work and encouraged them to tell their stories of sexual assault and harassment at the hands of powerful men. I had a vague idea about the casting couch in Hollywood but had no clue that actresses were treated this way. From my years as an employment lawyer I knew sexual harassment existed but having been a Plaintiff’s lawyer since 2001, I believed that most of the victims of harassment were low income women. My former clients, mostly immigrant low-wage workers were being harassed and sexually assaulted by their managers, foreman, and supervisors at an alarming rate. For years victims’ advocates have attempted to bring attention to rape and sexual assault at work but nothing hit a cord until we found out that highly paid actresses had experienced the same treatment. That my former clients have so much in common with these women is fascinating. Of course, when actresses such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd were assaulted by Weinstein they were young and still trying to become famous. They had no power in comparison to Weinstein. And therein lies the connection. Its the lack of power that defines quid pro quo sexual harassment. Weinstein’s action were classic acts of quid pro quo harassment. You give me sex and I’ll give you parts in my films. My former clients were told by their managers, you give me sex and you won’t get fired, or you’ll get more hours, or a better job assignment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when someone with more power such as a supervisor or manager threatens to take away a tangible job benefit in exchange for sex. The harassment must be unwelcome. If the complainant participates the harassment is not unwelcome. For women who are young, inexperienced, low-income, or dependent on their jobs for their families, there is not much of a choice. They are willing to accept the harassment in order to keep their jobs. Nothing has changed. This type of treatment still occurs, we are all just more aware that it happens. What are your thoughts?
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