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Article Summary

"Changing Currents in Employment Law" is the DC Bar's annual three-hour event featuring legal updates and practice tips from the area's top employment attorneys — all for CLE credit. TELG's Scott Oswald serves as faculty director and will moderate the event. Here he previews the #MeToo panel with panelist and plaintiff's lawyer Carla Brown of Charlson Bredehoft Cohen & Brown.

This interview by TELG managing principal R. Scott Oswald was published by The Employment Law Group, P.C. on August 13, 2018.

Changing Currents 2018: #MeToo Panel Preview

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» Click here for more about Changing Currents, plus a $25 early-bird discount until Sept. 15.


 

(Transcribed and edited lightly by The Employment Law Group)

R. Scott Oswald: We are here with Carla Brown, who is one of our panelists at this year’s “Changing Currents in Employment Law.” She will be on one of our panels talking about how the #MeToo movement has changed the workplace.

Carla, I want to ask you: When you first saw what was happening with the #MeToo movement — maybe in the first 30 days — did you have any sense that it would catch fire as it did, you know, in those first few months, and even carrying through to today?

Carla Brown: No. I really had no idea. I was hopeful, I was optimistic. A lot of my friends called me and said, “Wow, are you hearing about this?” I thought Yes! — but [then], over time, so many different industries, so many influential people out of each of those industries. I really had no idea. I’m pleasantly surprised.

Some lawyers who have been around … said, “Well, you know we had Anita Hill back in the day, and we had some very influential people come forward over time. What’s different?” I never anticipated you’d have so many industries, so many different people coming forward. And, really, both sides of the table — not just people who represent employees, but people who represent employers, really taking it seriously and at least talking about it.

The fact that we’re having this conversation — that we’re having it in the context of the DC Bar and that we’re having it in the context of both sides of the table — I think signifies how huge this issue is.

So, no, I had no idea.

Oswald: Do you think that the #MeToo movement has maybe removed the stigma, or at least made it not as great, for people to come forward? Do you feel as if your clients maybe are a little more comfortable with saying “Me too”?

Brown: Probably a little bit yes, and a little bit no.

I think, at the end of the day, nobody wants to be the woman who came forward and said, “I was discriminated against.” They don’t want to come out against powerful people. There’s really a lot of fear there — which I think is individual, it’s situational. It’s not going to be cured by the fact that somebody else said “Me too.”

But on the flip side of that, there is an expectation that somebody at the company should really be paying attention to these issues. And maybe they’ve had a discussion about coming forward, which makes a big difference.

But, you know, I’m reminded that in 2016 [co-chairs Chai] Feldblum and [Victoria] Lipnic produced a study that really said only 25 percent of people come forward — and I don’t think the #MeToo movement, or anything else, is going to cure that, to be honest.

Oswald: How about the workplace? Do you see that companies in the wake of the #MeToo movement maybe are treating these claims differently than they were even just a few years ago?

Brown: Yes — yes. It does seem like companies are taking them more seriously. They’re certainly being investigated. The rhetoric at least is there, that they want to do something about it.

But I do think there has to be a deeper understanding within the company. It’s great that you fired somebody, but you didn’t do anything for my poor client, who is still working there and still isn’t sure if [the perpetrator’s] friends are laughing behind her back, or something along those lines.

I think companies are taking it more seriously. I know, over time, that the workplace will be better because of this. But at the end of the day, the goal is that you get to go to work, and work on your work, and not have to deal with all these other issues that really detract from your ability to focus — so I’m hopeful that there’ll be [more] change.

Oswald: So, for those who are watching and thinking, “Well, gee, what will I learn in the upcoming Changing Currents programming?” — what are just a few things that one can expect to learn in this year’s program on the #MeToo panel?

Brown: One thing I would say is that the case law has always been there. The support for plaintiffs has always been there.

And for employers, I sort of see us as being on both sides of the table [saying that] we want you to fix the problem before it becomes a lawsuit — we want you to help the person, we want you to do something about it.

And I hope that, at least for … plaintiffs, we need to figure out how to walk people through these situations and be there [for victims] — not only once it’s a lawsuit, but even maybe prevent it from getting there.

[Again] for employers: You know, you have to correct the problem. We want to help you understand how that can be done. It’s not just one solution; there’s lots of remedies you could have for plaintiffs.

I would hope that someone would walk out of [Changing Currents], on the plaintiff’s side, more willing to support a deeper understanding, going back to the case law that’s already there and has been established. And for employers, I still want you to fix this problem before people have to live two or three years in a lawsuit.

To the extent that anything we provide on the panel might be helpful, I would hope that that’s something [attendees will] get out of it.

Oswald: What do you see for the future — the future of the #MeToo movement from your perspective? Let’s say it’s a year down the road and we’re sitting here again, talking about the #MeToo movement. What do you see for the future?

Brown: Hopefully more jury verdicts.

You know, one thing [holding back] the #MeToo movement — and one thing [that still affects] sexual harassment claims — is [that] I think there’s a lot of intent [to get victims to] placate or avoid or play along even [with harassers], and that is not welcoming conduct and that is not inviting the conduct.

I hope that’s understood more, and we continue to see more jury verdicts where the public has said that it’s not acceptable to force people to engage in different conduct they don’t want to simply to keep their jobs, or get the promotion, or get the bonus, or stay in their projects.

So a year from now I’d love to get some great opinions from jurors, and obviously even on bench trials from judges, just explaining that even more.

Oswald: Carla, thank you.

Brown: Thank you for having me.

———-

R. Scott Oswald is managing principal of The Employment Law Group, P.C. Carla Brown is a partner at Charlson Bredehoft Cohen & Brown, P.C.

 


» Click here for more about Changing Currents, plus a $25 early-bird discount until Sept. 15.


 

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