Harvey Weinstein and California’s Sexual Harassment Laws

With the latest news about studio executive Harvey Weinstein flooding the internet, it’s as if the headlines have been ripped from the silver screen for a change, instead of the other way around. A true Hollywood thriller, or more accurately, a horror story, Weinstein stands accused of harassing, assaulting and even raping several women who sought his help with their careers in the movie industry.

While there are those who will refer to Weinstein’s repellant behavior as an anomaly in the professional world, or try to minimize the seriousness of his actions, or perhaps cast doubt on the words of his accusers, the facts of this latest story only serve to remind those of us familiar with these cases, that sexual harassment is alive and well.

Perhaps you’ve come to this page because you are dealing with a harasser at your place of employment. Or maybe you want to know more about what the law says when it comes to sexual harassment. This article will discuss California sexual harassment law as viewed in the context of recent events at the Weinstein Company.

If you feel you have been the victim of sexual harassment, it is recommended you consult with a good employment attorney to discuss your options, and take a stand.

The Accusations Against Harvey Weinstein

Things started unraveling for Weinstein rapidly after a New York Times expose published on October 5. The article detailed a span of decades in which Weinstein physically harassed women and, on at least eight occasions, offered money in return for their silence.

The story interviewed noted actress Ashley Judd who told the paper that in the 1990s, she went to the lobby of the Hotel Peninsula Beverly Hills for what she expected to be a morning business meeting. She was instead directed to Weinstein’s room where he answered the door in a bathrobe, and asked if she would watch him take a shower.

Emily Nestor, a temporary employee of the production company told the Times that in 2014, Weinstein invited her to the same hotel and told her that if she accepted his sexual advances, he would help advance her career.

A company memo reviewed by the Times indicated an unidentified woman who worked as a personal assistant to Weinstein was reportedly pressured her into giving the mogul a massage while he was naked. She reportedly left the hotel “crying and very distraught.”

Since publication of the Times’ article, the New Yorker published its own investigative piece detailing allegations of harassment against Weinstein by 13 women. Weinstein has since been fired by the board of the company he founded, and criminal investigations into past claims against him have been opened by police in London and New York.

Prior to his termination, Weinstein told the Times that he was working on his issues with a therapist, and though he declined to discuss the settlements paid over the years, he said that in addressing employee concerns, his motto was “to keep the peace.”

What the Law Says About Sexual Harassment

There are laws protecting workers from sexual harassment at both the federal and state level. In California, attorneys typically prefer to use the state law, also known as the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

Section 12940 (j)(1) of the act makes it unlawful for employers, employment agencies, training programs, and other entities to harass a worker based on a number of classifications such as race, nationality, and religious creed. These protected classes also include a worker’s sex. That prohibits abusive behavior on whether a person is male or female. But in California the harassment doesn’t have to be motivated by sexual desire — though in the case of Weinstein — it most likely was.

Harassing behavior can include: unwanted sexual advances, leering, gestures or displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures or cartoons. It can also include derogatory comments, slurs and jokes, among other behaviors. While most folks often automatically think of women as the victims of sexual harassment, the law protects men as well.

Two Main Categories of Sexual Harassment

The law views two main categories of sexual harassment. These are:

  • Quid Pro Quo harassment
  • Hostile Work Environment (this is the most common type)

The first, quid pro quo, can be illustrated by some of the key accusations against Harvey Weinstein. This Latin phrase literally translates to “something for something.” In terms of sexual harassment, it involves a person, in Weinstein’s case, a powerful studio executive, who uses his or her position of power to offer career advancement to another employee in exchange for sexual favors.

According to the California Civil Jury Instructions, a cause of action for quid pro quo harassment can be based upon a supervisor’s suggestion (explicitly or implied) that sexual favors are a condition of employment. When it comes to the definition of a hostile work environment, the harassment must be “sufficiently pervasive so as to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive work environment.”

Harassment Doesn’t Have to Be Motivated by Sexual Desire

While several women’s’ accounts of their encounters with Weinstein do appear to be sexually motivated to one degree or another, under California law, sexual harassment doesn’t have to be motivated by sexual desire in order to be unlawful.

Unlawful behavior could include a manager who is wants to demean women and uses crass sexual language, or draws sexual pictures on an office board in an effort to humiliate women.

It could involve employees streaming pornographic videos on company computers to make female employees uncomfortable. Sexual harassment can also include male employees demeaning or demoting a female employee because of her pregnancy. Or it can involve employees or supervisors directing slurs at transgender or gay employees.

Women Aren’t the Only Victims of Sexual Harassment

Since the revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment of women have come to light, men in Hollywood have also come forward with their own stories workplace abuse.

Terry Crews, a comedic actor known for his work in movies such as Idiocracy and the television show Brooklyn Nine-Nine, as well as his NFL career, came explained how he was groped by an unidentified Hollywood executive at an industry event in 2016.

Speaking to CNN, Crews said that he understood why many women don’t come forward about their experiences with sexual harassment, for fear of retaliation. In his particular case, he said he considered physically assaulting his groper, however, he envisioned the headline, “240 lbs. black man stomps out Hollywood honcho.” He added he probably wouldn’t have been able to see the headline because he would have been in jail.

James Van Der Beek, known for his work on the television show Dawson’s Creek, also came forward with his own story of harassment. Taking to his Twitter account, Van Der Beek applauded the women who had come forward, adding, “I’ve had my ass grabbed by older, powerful men, I’ve had them corner me in inappropriate sexual conversations when I was much younger…”

Don’t Suffer in Silence

If you feel you’ve been sexually harassed by an employer, you may want to respond the way actor Terry Crews described. However, he was right to exercise restraint, and it’s recommended you do the same. But exercising restraint doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence.

With the help of a good Los Angeles termination attorney you can stand up for your rights as a worker, and a human being. You can contact this office for a free consultation to find out if you have a case. Most harassment claims are handled on a contingency basis, which means the client doesn’t pay legal fees up front. Contact our office, to see how we can help.

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