Two years on, Hollywood reflects on #MeToo changes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – This week marks two years since the New York Times and the New Yorker published accounts by multiple women accusing film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, fueling the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and a drive to empower women who work behind and in front of the camera.

Weinstein is due to stand trial in January on charges of rape and predatory assault of two women. He denies any non-consensual sex.

Reuters asked actors, directors and producers how much Hollywood has changed since October 2017. Below are their replies, edited for length and clarity.


“I’d like to say that I feel like men might be beginning to behave themselves a little bit better, and I say maybe. I’m not saying they have definitively, but there is a new way of communicating, or a slightly new awareness, an awareness shift that’s happened. It’s in process. This job is not done. It will never be done, but I think there’s a way of communicating that has improved, hopefully.”


“The #MeToo movement – my sister was one of the first people to come out – and I think it’s had a ripple effect all across the world, beyond Hollywood. Luckily there is more representation of women and women of color on television than there was before, but it’s still not really equal yet … Activists and people have been trying to get this work done for a long, long time, but the more we have this conversation, the more we ask for it, the more we talk about the need for it, the better. You have movies like ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Black Panther’ busting box office records and then suddenly, all of a sudden, the world is like ‘Oh, right, they could be successful.’ The business is sometimes the last one to learn.”


“We seem to work as a pendulum. We swing too far one way, then we find that sweet spot, and then we go too far back and we keep on this swing. But what is going on, which is positive, is that we’re recalibrating our relationships, behaviors and workplace. It’s long overdue and needed, and it’s a good thing.”


“I’ve seen so many changes within my industry, but not just within my industry … I see it at my daughter’s school. I see it in my friends’ places of employment. I see it really everywhere, and it gives me great faith that the world that these girls are growing up in is going to be different than the one that you and I grew up in.”


“I think we have very far to go. I think even in Hollywood there should have been an independent inquiry… There’s a lot of focus about what they say women want and I would say it’s not what we want. It’s what we’d like not to be done to us. Do not limit us to have an education, do not harm us whether it be at war or in our own homes, do not oppress us or try to control us, do not limit our possibilities as human beings and just let us be.”


“There’s this solidarity that is providing women with a chance to start finally telling their own stories and not being used as sort of tools to tell their stories through other people … There are so many untapped resources and ways in which we can inhabit our own stories and repossess our narrative. (It) is fully doable right now and for the first time, like ever, so it is an exciting time for women in film, like, enormously.”


“I think the #MeToo movement has changed a lot, but like a lot of hashtag movements, the problem is that when you do a hashtag or something, people think it’s fixed. But it’s not. It hasn’t really changed anything, because it’s still happening.”


“For me (on movie ‘The Kitchen,’) we had (director) Andrea (Berloff), three female leads, we also had (the) first female (director of photography), and it’s almost one of those things now that’s become natural because these women are the best at what they do, and that’s why they were there and not because they’re women … It’s just becoming more normalized, which I think is the best part of it.”


“Charlize (Theron), Margot (Robbie) and I just did a film – ‘Bombshell’ – which is about instigating change in terms of sexual harassment … We hope that constantly talking about it changes it for the generations to come.”


“Because of Time’s Up, (New York) Governor (Andrew) Cuomo has adopted the Time’s Up safety agenda, which is really, really significant for every woman in New York state. New York is a much less progressive state than California, so when Time’s Up New York got together we thought, ‘What do we address here in our home state?’ And we’ve really been able to make changes (including) extend the statute of limitations on assault.”


“I think there’s been such a seismic shift in awareness in just a year. I think there’s a long way to go but I do think quite a bit has happened already. Already all the conversations I’ve had with women, we just didn’t have those conversations before.”


“I think we’re at the beginning of a movement, and I think we have to keep pushing. You can talk a good game, but you have to wait until it changes, so we’re not there yet. We will be. You’ve got to root for it. I’m a hopeful person. I have two daughters; I have to be. I’ll fight. I’ll fight until I can’t fight anymore.”


“For me, being a young woman in the industry and hearing actresses tell their story and being able to hear those voices and know that it’s OK to speak your truth on things and stand up for what’s right and say no – it’s a great community that has really formed because of this.”


“When we did ‘Cheers,’ … if someone was in the bathroom, someone would kick open the door and we would take pictures, but the intent was in fun. And if the intent is to hold you hostage or not give you a job without sexual favors, you know the difference. But I think that the pendulum swung and now it needs to swing and balance out because people are not all ill-intentioned.”


“I have been quite free, always, in my choices in life. I didn’t need #MeToo to do that, but I think #MeToo’s movement was very important for some people, for some women to speak out.”


“You really shouldn’t be able to get away with inequality anymore. The thing is that you’ve got to keep vocal about it; you’ve got to be vigilant. It’s not something that can ever be really done and dusted until there is equality and everybody’s voice is heard.”


“It’s just good everybody’s aware. I mean, out with the old, right? The old status quo can’t hold. There has to be these evolutionary leaps in what is acceptable.”

(Reporting by Rollo Ross, Alicia Powell, Sarah Mills, Jane Ross and Lisa Richwine; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

‘Good old boy network’ dominates FBI academy, lawsuit claims

FILE PHOTO: FBI headquarters building in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

(Reuters) – Sixteen women filed a lawsuit against the FBI on Wednesday, claiming sexual discrimination and accusing it of running “a good old boy network” in its training program.

Male instructors exposed the former recruits to a hostile work environment, sexual harassment and inappropriate jokes, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court in Washington.

Seven of the women still work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and some did not use their full names in the suit, fearing retaliation, according to a court filing.

According to the suit, the bureau’s instructors are mostly men and they penalized and dismissed female trainees at a significantly higher rate than male trainees.

Some of the litigants accused the instructors of making inappropriate jokes and making multiple sexual advances on at least one of the female trainees.

The lawsuit asked that the bureau review its training evaluation process, pay $300,000 to each of the women for emotional stress, and that it hire more female instructors.

The FBI said in a statement to the New York Times, which first reported the lawsuit, that it was “committed to fostering a work environment where all of our employees are valued and respected.”

A representative for the bureau could not be reached early on Thursday by Reuters.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Nick Macfie)

McDonald’s faces 25 new sexual harassment complaints from workers

FILE PHOTO: The logo of a McDonald's Corp restaurant is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – McDonald’s Corp was accused on Tuesday in 25 new lawsuits and regulatory charges of condoning sexual harassment in the workplace and retaliating against employees who speak up.

The cases announced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the labor group Fight for $15, and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund cover alleged misconduct at McDonald’s locations in 20 U.S. cities, including groping, indecent exposure, propositions for sex, and lewd comments.

McDonald’s is one of the world’s most recognizable brands, and the cases make the fast-food chain a primary target of a campaign to extend the #MeToo movement, which sprung from sexual harassment cases in Hollywood, to the workplace.

The Chicago-based company said it has more than 14,000 locations in the United States with some 850,000 workers.

More than 90 percent of the locations are franchised, and McDonald’s has long maintained it should not be liable for how employees in franchised restaurants behave.

Chief Executive Steve Easterbrook said his company has improved and more clearly defined its harassment policies, has trained most franchise owners, and will be training front-line employees and setting up a complaint hotline.

“McDonald’s is sending a clear message that we are committed to creating and sustaining a culture of trust where employees feel safe, valued and respected,” Easterbrook wrote in letters this week to Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth and “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi, who supports the workers’ cause.

The 25 cases include three new lawsuits, two by workers who previously filed charges, and charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

McDonald’s has faced more than 50 such charges and lawsuits in the last three years, the ACLU said. Last September, McDonald’s workers in 10 cities staged a one-day strike to protest alleged sexual harassment.

Jamelia Fairley, a single mother who makes $9.60 an hour at a corporate-owned McDonald’s in Sanford, Florida, told reporters she went to the EEOC after a co-worker began groping her, rubbing against her and saying he could “give me a ride.”

She said that after she reported the harassment, McDonald’s transferred but did not fire her harasser, while her boss cut her weekly hours to seven from 25,

“Trying to raise a 2-year old on $67 a week is, well, I can’t do it,” Fairley said.

Sharyn Tejani, director of the Time’s Up fund, which is part of the National Women’s Law Center, said having to put up with workplace harassment should not be a cost of making a living.

“For McDonald’s, time is past up,” she said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Bill Berkrot)

Microsoft women filed 238 discrimination and harassment complaints

The Microsoft logo is shown on the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo - RC177D20CF10

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Women at Microsoft Corp working in U.S.-based technical jobs filed 238 internal complaints about gender discrimination or sexual harassment between 2010 and 2016, according to court filings made public on Monday.

The figure was cited by plaintiffs suing Microsoft for systematically denying pay raises or promotions to women at the world’s largest software company. Microsoft denies it had any such policy.

The lawsuit, filed in Seattle federal court in 2015, is attracting wider attention after a series of powerful men have left or been fired from their jobs in entertainment, the media and politics for sexual misconduct.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are pushing to proceed as a class action lawsuit, which could cover more than 8,000 women.

More details about Microsoft’s human resources practices were made public on Monday in legal filings submitted as part of that process.

The two sides are exchanging documents ahead of trial, which has not been scheduled.

Out of 118 gender discrimination complaints filed by women at Microsoft, only one was deemed “founded” by the company, according to the unsealed court filings.

Attorneys for the women described the number of complaints as “shocking” in the court filings, and said the response by Microsoft’s investigations team was “lackluster.”

Companies generally keep information about internal discrimination complaints private, making it unclear how the number of complaints at Microsoft compares to those at its competitors.

In a statement on Tuesday, Microsoft said it had a robust system to investigate concerns raised by its employees, and that it wanted them to speak up.

Microsoft budgets more than $55 million a year to promote diversity and inclusion, it said in court filings. The company had about 74,000 U.S. employees at the end of 2017.

Microsoft said the plaintiffs cannot cite one example of a pay or promotion problem in which Microsoft’s investigations team should have found a violation of company policy but did not.

U.S. District Judge James Robart has not yet ruled on the plaintiffs’ request for class action status.

A Reuters review of federal lawsuits filed between 2006 and 2016 revealed hundreds containing sexual harassment allegations where companies used common civil litigation tactics to keep potentially damning information under wraps.

Microsoft had argued that the number of womens’ human resources complaints should be secret because publicizing the outcomes could deter employees from reporting future abuses.

A court-appointed official found that scenario “far too remote a competitive or business harm” to justify keeping the information sealed.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Additional reporting by Salvador Rodriguez; Editing by Bill Rigby, Edwina Gibbs and Bernadette Baum)

#MeToo effect: Calls flood U.S. sexual assault hotlines

Volunteers on the National Sexual Assault Hotline work both over the phone and via web chat at the offices of the U.S.'s largest anti-sexual violence organization, the Rape Abuse Incest National Network, in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2018.

By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The phones at U.S. sexual assault hotlines have been ringing in record numbers as the #MeToo social movement spurs victims to reach out for help, sending organizations scrambling to keep up.

Calls spiked when the movement began in October, with people waiting up to three hours to talk to someone at the country’s largest one, the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

The number of calls to the hotline operated by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) surged 25 percent in November from a year earlier, and another 30 percent in December, according to RAINN. Its 209,480 total calls in 2017 were the most for any year since its founding in 1993.

Last fall, actress Alyssa Milano of the television show “Charmed” asked women who had been sexually assaulted or harassed to post “Me Too” in response to allegations made against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein, accused of sexual abuse by dozens of women, has denied having nonconsensual sexual contact with anyone. Reuters has not been able to independently confirm the accusations.

At the national hotline’s call center, the lights that workers flip on to indicate they are on the phone never seemed to turn off, said Celia Gamboa, a manager at the national hotline. The chat app most callers prefer was flooded with messages, she said. The #MeToo movement almost always came up.

“It wasn’t just a one-time thing,” Gamboa said. “We’re just going to continue to see that type of flow into the future.”

RAINN added 40 employees to its staff of 200 and stepped up volunteer recruiting, said CEO Scott Berkowitz. That has helped chip away at the wait times, he said.

Elsewhere, Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. saw a spike in calls about sexual harassment. Executive Director Bridgette Stumpf said that unfortunately, the center can often only recommend private attorneys for people whose harassment did not include violence, adding such help may be too expensive for many victims.

The DC Rape Crisis Center now sees an average of 70 people a week seeking legal, physical or psychological help, up from 30 to 40 before #MeToo, said Executive Director Indira Henard. It also saw a bump in donations last fall following the #MeToo postings.

“It is for the record books,” Henard said. “I don’t believe there has ever been a time in our history when we talked about sexual violence and its impact this way.”

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)

Special Report: How courts help companies keep sexual misconduct under cover

A Goldman Sachs sign is seen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S

By Dan Levine, Benjamin Lesser and Renee Dudley

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Cristina Chen-Oster, a senior salesperson in Goldman Sachs’s convertible bonds department, was a few years out of MIT when a male colleague pinned her against a wall, kissed her, groped her and tried to engage in a sexual act, she said in a lawsuit in federal court. After reporting the incident to her boss, the lawsuit alleged, she missed out on pay and promotions while her accused attacker steadily rose through the ranks.

Cathy Sellars at her home in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, U.S. December 21, 2017.

Cathy Sellars at her home in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, U.S. December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Spooneybarger

Cathy Sellars, a 59-year-old mother of two adult children, was training to become a truck driver for freight hauler CRST when she complained to her bosses about repeated sexual harassment by male colleagues, according to a class action lawsuit against the company. Her complaints ignored, she says in court records, she eventually found herself in a truck cab with a male driver who pulled a knife on her after she rebuffed his sexual advances. He then refused to allow her to exit the truck during a trip through the southwest and held her for several hours, she sai

And Sebastian Kelly, a gay driver for an ambulance company in Alabama, said in a lawsuit that he worked in a sexually charged atmosphere, where two male co-workers routinely exposed their genitalia.

News headlines of late have focused on sexual harassment accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, former Today show anchor Matt Lauer, former U.S. Senator Al Franken and other media figures, entertainers and politicians. In each case, the accusers say they waited years to confront the men who accosted them, most of them too ashamed or fearful to complain publicly or persuaded to keep quiet by tactics meant to suppress the truth.

But these three plaintiffs, and many like them, chose to confront their alleged abusers and hold the companies they work for accountable in public court. Rather than opening the incidents to full public scrutiny, however, judges let companies push the legal boundaries of what should be considered confidential and to keep details of abusive behavior secret.

A Reuters review of federal court cases filed between 2006 and 2016 revealed hundreds containing sexual harassment allegations where companies used common civil litigation tactics to keep potentially damning information under wraps. Plaintiffs in some cases say companies sought to conceal internal documents that reveal similar harassment claims, as well as corporate policies that favored abusers over victims.

In one case, plaintiff lawyers collected secret evidence about alleged criminal behavior, including details of a pharmaceutical saleswoman who alleged a doctor sexually assaulted her at a work-related event. Her supervisor admitted to giving a sheriff’s detective false information about the allegations, court records show.


The true number of such cases is likely much greater than the hundreds identified by Reuters. Federal courts categorize sexual harassment within a larger group of gender discrimination claims, which makes a full accounting difficult. In addition, many sexual harassment cases are filed in state courts. Reuters focused its review on the federal courts because records are more accessible and consistent.

As a result of the sealed documents, cases that could shine light on specific abusers, or on toxic corporate cultures, do the opposite: They enable the very secrecy and corporate complicity that allow sexual harassment to persist in the workplace.

Shira Scheindlin, a former Manhattan federal judge, said judges should make public human-resources complaints that result in employee discipline.


Shira Scheindlin, a former Manhattan federal judge, poses for a portrait at her firm's office in New York City, U.S., January 8, 2018. Picture taken January 8, 2018.

Shira Scheindlin, a former Manhattan federal judge, poses for a portrait at her firm’s office in New York City, U.S., January 8, 2018. Picture taken January 8, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“Otherwise, you get the serial abuser just doing it at the next job,” said Scheindlin, who currently heads the American Bar Association’s federal courts subcommittee and whose private practice includes advising companies on handling sexual harassment complaints. “If that record had been available, there would have been no next job.”

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said courts are going too far in routinely sealing such cases. Documents filed in federal court are presumed to be public, he said, so people can understand how the judiciary works. Companies should not be allowed to cloak evidence just because it is damaging, said the judge, based in San Francisco. That goes not only for sexual harassment but also for broader corporate governance issues.

“It’s hard to see why their private interests to avoid embarrassment trumps the public’s right to have access to litigation,” Breyer said.

Companies say they have good reason to seek broad protective orders. They frequently argue that their internal documents contain unproven allegations that shouldn’t be public, or sensitive business information that could aid a competitor. Plaintiff attorneys say they often agree to protective orders and motions to seal information from public disclosure because fighting over public access can increase the length and cost of a lawsuit.

Many judges, meanwhile, are reluctant to enforce transparency when neither side has requested it, according to several current and former federal judges.

“I don’t think any judge is presumptively hostile to the idea of disclosure,” Breyer said. “We may be presumptively hostile to doing more work. I’m speaking for myself.”

Most civil cases settle before they can be publicly aired before a jury. That means the pre-trial secrecy allows companies to permanently conceal information about their sexual harassment policies and how they respond to specific complaints of abuse.

A broad protective order in the ongoing lawsuit by Chen-Oster and three other women against Goldman has allowed the Wall Street giant to keep hundreds of documents under wraps for three years.

Asked about the secrecy, a Goldman spokesperson told Reuters the firm keeps details private because it promises employees confidentiality when they report concerns. The spokesperson would not discuss the specific allegations raised by Chen-Oster and the other plaintiffs.

In court documents, the company acknowledges that Chen-Oster told her boss about the contact with her co-worker and that the supervisor contacted Goldman’s human resources department about it. Chen-Oster, the company says in court filings, did not want to pursue a human resources complaint.

The protective order permitted lawyers on either side to mark any document exchanged in discovery as confidential, thus barring anyone from disclosing it outside the case. Such orders have become standard to ensure secrecy during the pre-trial evidence discovery phase in U.S. civil litigation.

There are no nationwide standards on what information should be sealed when discovery documents are later filed in court. Several federal appeals courts recognize that trade secrets, sensitive financial data, or personal information like Social Security Numbers can remain secret. When it comes to allegations of misconduct, some case law allows information that would intrude on an individual’s privacy to be kept secret. But it is left to judges to decide if someone’s privacy outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure.

Initially, Chen-Oster’s lawyers agreed to the protective order, but later, when they sought to broaden the case, they took the rare step of arguing that many documents filed in court should be made public.

Adam Klein, one of her lawyers, said plaintiff attorneys usually agree to protective orders to gain access to company documents in the first place.

“It’s balancing the interest of the client to get information with the public’s right to know,” Klein said. In Chen-Oster’s case, Klein said, they later pushed to unseal documents in part so that more women working at Goldman who could join the lawsuit would know the details.

The lawyers asked then-U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis IV in Manhattan to certify the lawsuit as a class action to address pay and promotions lost to gender discrimination at Goldman. To support their request, they filed, under seal, nearly 300 internal Goldman documents the company had given them during discovery. Some of those documents, the lawyers alleged, showed that Goldman rewarded men who engaged in sexual misconduct. Because Goldman had asserted confidentiality during discovery, Chen-Oster’s lawyers had to file those documents in secret.

The plaintiffs also secretly filed a chart that logged gender discrimination complaints Goldman female employees made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


The plaintiffs’ first request in 2014 to unseal is itself not public, nor is Goldman’s response. Francis sided with Goldman – though his reasoning is unknown because he also sealed the ruling from disclosure on the public court docket.

In a subsequent filing, Chen-Oster’s lawyers argued that details about Goldman HR investigations should be made public, at least without revealing employee names, because they did not contain the type of trade secrets that legal precedent allows companies to keep confidential.

In response, Goldman attorneys argued the documents should remain secret, arguing many contained hearsay and violated the privacy of people who aren’t parties to the suit. The material had been “selectively culled” from Goldman’s internal personnel files to “sensationalize this proceeding,” Goldman’s lawyers said.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan reaffirmed Francis’s ruling in 2017, saying the sealed materials “include sensitive content about identifiable non-parties.” Because of that, Torres ruled, the plaintiffs’ request to make the material public should wait until after a judge decides whether to let the case proceed as a class action.

That legal question has now been pending for more than three years.

Torres declined to comment. Francis, who recently left the bench, also declined to comment on the Goldman case. But in general, he said, judges often wait to wade into secrecy issues until after they know what evidence will be important in their rulings. That way they have a roadmap to decide which secret court filings are most relevant to the public, he said.

“Making a decision later with more information may be better,” Francis said. “But later may be much later, and that’s problematic.”

Goldman says in court filings that it takes harassment seriously. Out of 12 human-resources cases highlighted by Chen-Oster’s lawyers, Goldman said it had fired five subjects of those complaints and disciplined five. The identities of those employees, however, are not public, leaving other companies unaware of the abusers’ histories.

Chen-Oster and one other plaintiff declined to talk for this article, and the others did not respond to Reuters’ efforts to reach them.


In some cases, companies have persuaded judges to require plaintiffs to keep secret the alleged abusers named in lawsuits, before discovery even begins.

The 2011 claim filed by Sebastian Kelly against his former employer, Regional Paramedical Services Inc of Jasper, Alabama, described a hyper-sexualized environment in which his colleagues allegedly exposed their genitalia regularly and discussed sex in graphic terms. He described one instance in which a colleague told Kelly that he “can’t be gay, you like titties too much.”

That employee’s name, and several others, were blacked out in Kelly’s complaint on the order of Judge James Hancock of the Northern District of Alabama. Hancock ruled that all names of employees who weren’t in supervisory roles, including the human resources director, must be kept secret.

Hancock wrote that allegations against non-supervisory employees are “embarrassing” and that the public’s right to access court records was outweighed by the privacy interests of the employees.

In July 2012, both parties asked the judge to dismiss the case after reaching an out-of-court settlement; the terms weren’t disclosed.

A company spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment. The company denies Kelly’s allegations in court documents. Kelly would not disclose the terms of the settlement.

Because the case did not go to trial, the identities of the accused remain blacked out in Kelly’s lawsuit. The accused are named openly, however, in a complaint Kelly filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Kelly’s lawyers filed the document after Hancock ordered them to submit the EEOC records. Anyone reviewing the filing would find the names of the accused men.

Hancock, who has retired, could not be reached to explain why he did not order the names to be blacked out when the lawyers filed the EEOC complaint.


In the case against CRST Expedited Inc., a large trucking company, secret court filings were compelling enough to persuade Judge Leonard Strand that plaintiffs had grounds to mount a class action alleging widespread systemic abuse against female employees. Yet even with the class certification, the judge continues to keep important details under wraps.

The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, centers on the complaints of three women, including Cathy Sellars, the 59-year-old who says she was held at knifepoint after rejecting a coworker’s sexual advances. She said she complained about harassment to her superiors and the human resources department. When she contacted human resources to check on the status of her complaints, she says in her lawsuit, she was told that information was “none of my business.”

After Sellars and the other plaintiffs took CRST to court, their attorneys sought information from the company about how it handled sexual harassment complaints, and how many had been filed. The plaintiffs eventually obtained much of that information.

However, the broad protective order adopted at the beginning of the case – agreed to by both the plaintiffs and the defendants – barred anyone from disclosing that information. The order also forced the plaintiffs to file secretly their motion asking the court for class certification. As a result, all of their allegations of widespread abuse at CRST remained confidential.

Judge Strand granted the plaintiffs’ bid for a class action. In that March order, Strand disclosed some of the sealed material, including the number of female employees – 106 – filing sexual harassment complaints with CRST between October 2013 and February 2016.

But the documents he cited – along with the entire motion he ruled on – still remain under seal.

“The public has a right to know about the gravity of harm in cases like this,” said Giselle Schuetz, an attorney for Sellars. She said she agreed to the sealing, however, because she couldn’t afford to delay the case.

The litigation is pending, and CRST attorney Kevin Visser said he could not discuss the case or any of the specific allegations as a result. The company denied Sellars’ allegations in court documents. Strand did not respond to requests for comment.


Plaintiff attorneys say secrecy orders tie their hands even when apparent criminal acts are uncovered during the pre-trial exchange of information, such as evidence that women were sexually assaulted while doing their jobs.

In one gender discrimination claim that went to trial eight years ago, Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis attempted to keep secret evidence that one of its managers had given false information to a sheriff’s detective investigating a sexual assault complaint, court records show.

That attempt came to light when the manager testified during a deposition with the plaintiff’s attorneys before the trial. The attorneys could not disclose the revelation to law enforcement authorities without seeking permission from the company or the judge because the deposition was required to be kept secret under the terms of the protective order.

Novartis tried to keep the details under wraps as the case went to trial. The company’s lawyers argued that the alleged sexual assault and the criminal investigation were irrelevant and would prejudice the jury because the details were “unusually graphic and offensive to any reasonable person.”

The judge rejected that argument, so in April 2010, Novartis sales rep Marjorie Salame told the jury that she was sexually assaulted by a doctor at a work-related golf event.

Salame testified that she had considered herself on a management track and enjoyed a good relationship with her boss when she headed to a country club near Tampa, Florida, in May 2002. At the end of the night, Salame said at an earlier deposition, Dr. Edwin Colon got her alone, lifted her skirt and penetrated her with his fingers.

The next day, Salame told her manager, Joseph Simmons, what had happened. Simmons told the jury he also received a phone call from Colon, who was apologetic but denied culpability, saying he had been drinking. The doctor said the sexual contact with Salame had been consensual, Simmons testified.

Colon declined to discuss the case with Reuters. Simmons also declined to comment.

Salame reported the incident to the sheriff’s office, and investigators interviewed Simmons. The Novartis manager told a detective that the doctor had not said he had been drinking and that Novartis was not investigating the matter, court records state. In fact, Simmons later testified, a human resources employee at Novartis was looking into the complaint, a fact he knew when he talked with the detective.

Salame’s ex-manager testified both in the pre-trial deposition and during the jury trial that he had misinformed the detective about what Colon told him and about Novartis investigating the complaint, though he told the jury he had not deliberately lied.

The doctor was not charged with a crime.

Had Salame’s lawyers wanted to tell law enforcement authorities about Simmons’ pre-trial revelation, they would have had to go through an elaborate process with Novartis and the judge. Nothing on the court docket shows they did so. Katherine Kimpel, who represented Salame and other women against Novartis, declined to comment.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, co-sponsored legislation in 2014 that would have allowed victims to disclose evidence obtained in civil litigation to law enforcement, if it impacts public health or safety. The bill died in committee.

Broad protective orders and motions to seal, Blumenthal said, can often conceal evidence of criminal behavior, allowing abusers to prey on unsuspecting women.

“The present practice sends her on a trail where all of the warning signs about the dangers have been removed, and she’s there vulnerable and alone,” he said.

Salame told Reuters she was too overwhelmed to pursue the matter involving her supervisor after learning he had misled investigators. She did file a civil lawsuit against the doctor, who denied her allegations. Three years ago, both sides agreed to a settlement.

The manager’s testimony was the first time Salame learned what he had done. “It took eight years for it to come out and vindicate me,” Salame said in an interview.

Few sexual harassment cases reach trial, making the Novartis case – and the details disclosed during public testimony – unusual.

The 2010 trial generated weeks of testimony – and headlines – about how the company treated women. The jury eventually ordered Novartis to pay $250 million in punitive damages in the class action. The company later decided to settle the case and pay about $153 million to class members, rather than appeal the jury verdict.

A Novartis spokesman declined to discuss the case with Reuters.

As part of the resolution of the case, the company agreed to internal reforms, including annual training on a new sexual harassment policy and new measures for tracking and investigating complaints. On pay, it agreed to analyze gender discrepancies and to share the results of that analysis with the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

More than three years later, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon congratulated Novartis for successfully complying with the reforms.

Yet even in a case with such transparency, the openness had its limits. The details of Novartis’s compliance efforts were not filed on the court docket and remain secret.

(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco, Benjamin Lesser in New York and Renee Dudley in Boston. Edited by Janet Roberts.)

Poll: Hugs and dirty jokes – Americans differ on acceptable behavior

People participate in a "MeToo" protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. on November 12, 2017.

By Chris Kahn

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Americans differ widely in their views of what constitutes sexual harassment, with age and race as well as gender throwing up the dividing lines, posing a challenge for those who police for such conduct in the workplace.

The issue has been thrown into the national spotlight as a string of prominent men in U.S. politics, entertainment and the media have been felled by allegations of sexual misconduct in recent months.

A Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll, released on Wednesday, asked more than 3,000 American adults to consider eight different scenarios and then prompted them to decide if they would personally label each to be an example of sexual harassment. The variation in responses showed a need for employers to spell out expected standards, employment experts said.

While most adults in the Dec. 13-18 poll agreed that acts such as intentional groping or kissing “without your consent” amounted to sexual harassment, they disagreed over a number of other actions.

When asked about “unwanted compliments about your appearance,” for example, 38 percent of adults said this amounted to sexual harassment, while 47 percent said it did not.

Some 41 percent of adults said they thought it was sexual harassment when someone told you “dirty jokes” but 44 percent said it was not. And 44 percent of adults said that nonconsensual hugging was sexual harassment, while 40 percent said it was not.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that enforces workplace discrimination laws, says sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances as well as other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that affects an individual’s employment, interferes with their performance or creates an intimidating or hostile work environment.

But courts have disagreed on when individual actions cross the line into harassment. And many workplace sexual harassment cases are settled by employers before they ever reach a court, so there is not a constant judicial airing of standards.


Since people come to work with different ideas of what is appropriate, managers should train their employees and develop clear lines of conduct so that there are no misunderstandings, said Suzanne Goldberg, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School.

“The onus is on employers” to set the tone, Goldberg said. “Even if the co-workers don’t object or go to management to complain.”

In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, for example, 19 percent of men said that touching someone intentionally without their consent was not sexual harassment, compared with 11 percent of women. The poll did not specify exactly what was meant by non-consensual touching.

Fifty-two percent of people from racial minorities said that they considered non-consensual hugging to be sexual harassment, compared with 39 percent of whites.

While most adults said they thought that it was sexual harassment to send “pornographic pictures” to someone without their consent, younger people appeared to be more permissive.

Eighty-three percent of millennials, or those adults born after 1982, said it was sexual harassment, compared with 90 percent of gen-Xers (born 1965-1981) and 94 percent of baby boomers (born 1946-1964.)

Experts in sexual harassment law said it is understandable that women, especially women who are racial minorities, define sexual harassment differently than men, given that many have experienced it first-hand.

“Men do not cross the street to avoid people,” said Joanna Grossman, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who specializes in workplace equality. “Virtually all women do, whether or not they’ve been attacked before. It’s part of growing up in a group that’s been victimized for so long.”


Clear workplace standards would help everyone, including those who are accused of sexual harassment, said Minna Kotkin, director of the Brooklyn Law School Employment Law Clinic.

Kotkin, whose clinic provides legal help for people dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, said she recently advised a man who said he was fired because he misunderstood where the line had been set.

“He worked in retail, and this was a place where there was sexual banter going around,” Kotkin said. “And one day he made a comment about a co-worker’s breasts. And then later she claimed that he grabbed her by the waist.”

“He got fired, and he was really surprised,” she said. “He thought that conduct was part of their relationship … But the question is, maybe this woman tolerated this all along and then finally had enough?”

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English throughout the United States. It has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2 percentage points for the entire sample. The credibility interval is higher for subsets based on gender, age and race, as the sample size is reduced.


(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Frances Kerry)