It’s time to reassess conflicts of interest
Executives at Time’s Up, an organization founded to fight sexual misconduct and advocate for gender equality in the workplace, often tell staff that their closeness to power is a strength, not a barrier.
But Time’s Up board chair Roberta Kaplan has resigned for her assistance to Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as he tried to discredit a former staff member who accused him of sexual harassment. In her first interview since Kaplan’s resignation, Time’s Up President Tina Tchen said she had “learned from this about a blind spot I had” on the long-standing relationship between the executives. of the group and those in power.full positions.
Tchen said she sees it can be difficult to gauge when in a working relationship Time’s Up may need to move away as information comes to light.
“When do we say, ‘No, we can’t work with you anymore’? Asked Tchen. “I have to admit that I probably drew that line too far down the road.”
Tchen’s interview, in which she discussed Kaplan’s resignation, was taped on Friday as part of The 19th Represents, an online summit taking place this week. The full interview will air on Thursday at the virtual summit.
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Tchen said Time’s Up aimed to use its access to “work with people who can make changes and hold them accountable.” She “saw it working,” she said, citing business leaders who adopted paid vacation policies when national legislation stalled. “But clearly, we have to do it in a much more careful way.”
“I recognize that, and it is painful for me, that the actions I have taken have caused pain and betrayal to the survivors,” Tchen said. “We have to understand: how can we do this to make sure it doesn’t happen? “
When the New York attorney general released a 165-page investigative report this month saying Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women and hit back against one, it caused waves in women’s advocacy communities. and LGBTQ people.
Kaplan was among several attorneys who advised the Cuomo team as they planned to write and distribute an opinion letter challenging the credibility of former staff member Lindsey Boylan, the first to publicly accuse the governor of harassment sexual.
More than 100 survivors of sexual harassment and assault, including clients of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and former staff, wrote an open letter claiming the organization “had lost its way.”
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“There is a consistent pattern of behavior where decision-makers at Time’s Up continue to align with abusers at the expense of survivors,” the group wrote.
In interviews with The 19th, more than a dozen current and former clients of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, staff, consultants and task force members said they have repeatedly voiced concerns about conflicting claims. potential interests and political alignments of the organization.
“People make mistakes, but they are repeated mistakes,” said Pringl Miller, one of the members of Time’s Up Healthcare who resigned this year due to the group’s response to allegations that a board member of The administration reportedly did not report the sexual harassment of a colleague.
A leading Hollywood women’s group launched Time’s Up in early 2018 after The New York Times published its first article on how Hollywood film producer and Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein paid the women who l ‘accused of sexual harassment.
The co-founders of his legal defense fund were Tchen, Kaplan, Fatima Goss Graves and Hilary Rosen. Goss Graves heads the National Women’s Law Center, which administers the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Rosen is vice president of SKDK, a Washington-based Democratic strategy firm. They are both on the set of Time’s Up.
Time’s Up executives and members of its board of directors entered the #MeToo movement from careers in politics and business. Tchen, a Chicago-based lawyer, was one of the main fundraisers for President Barack Obama, who became Michelle Obama’s chief of staff. Kaplan successfully argued for marriage equality in the Supreme Court. Rosen, before joining SKDK, was Managing Director of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Some of these alliances and professional endeavors of these women presented potential conflicts that Time’s Up staff, clients and associates believed should be investigated, disclosed, or both, people interviewed by The 19th said.
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Kaplan, through his law firm, is defending Goldman Sachs in a lawsuit that claims the investment bank’s general counsel covered up allegations of sexual misconduct. She represents Cuomo’s main assistant, Melissa DeRosa, who was central to the governor’s attempt to quash the sexual harassment allegations and discredit Boylan. DeRosa resigned on August 8. Cuomo followed on August 10.
Tchen’s political stature has led to situations in which Time’s Up staff, consultants, defense fund clients and other survivors have said they fear political relations will take priority over the needs of survivors. .
In February 2019, ahead of the election of Chicago’s mayor, Tchen, who was not yet president of the organization, backed Cook County Board Chairman Toni Preckwinkle, whose campaign used the Time’s Up name on its literature. Preckwinkle fired her chief of staff in September 2018 for what she called “inappropriate behavior”, following allegations that the chief of staff groped a woman in late 2016. The Chicago Tribune reported that Preckwinkle was aware of the incident as early as March 2018. Tchen said she supported Preckwinkle in a personal capacity, believing that Preckwinkle acted quickly after learning of the allegations against her chief of staff.
Tchen became President of Time’s Up in October 2019. She said the standard conflict of interest policy used by the organization “is not enough.”
Internal concerns about potential conflicts between the organization’s work and the political allegiances of its leaders intensified during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
Jennifer Klein, who co-chairs the White House Gender Policy Council, advised Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on gender policy. Staff were concerned about the optics of Tchen and Klein’s $ 2,800 donations to Biden in April 2020, as they landed shortly after the New York Times reported on the former’s claim. Senate Assistant Tara Reade that Biden sexually assaulted her. Biden denied the request.
Staff told The 19 that they noticed Rebecca Goldman, who was the COO of Time’s Up, questioned whether the organization’s social media platforms should highlight an exchange of debate between presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg on his company’s use of nondisclosure agreements, known as NDAs. Goldman’s husband’s political office, Three Point Media, was paid around $ 450,000 for Bloomberg’s three-month presidential campaign.
Time’s Up used its Twitter account to criticize moderators for not addressing the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. But in February 2020, when a debate host asked Bloomberg if his company was a hostile workplace for women, staff were advised not to tweet, they said. After Bloomberg offered to release three women from their NDAs, Time’s Up issued a press release saying it “commends all companies that take meaningful action to address the epidemic of sexual harassment and discrimination.” Time’s Up declined to address specific actions taken by its employees.
Time’s Up’s close ties since its founding with SKDK, which brought in over $ 2 million from Biden’s campaign, have also been a sticking point.
The National Women’s Law Center manages the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and match survivors with lawyers. Clients can request “storytelling assistance” and those requests are routed through SKDK, which either manages a client internally or connects them to an external PR firm. Clients have no way of knowing whether SKDK’s political or corporate advisory work involves a person or entity they might sue for harassment.
“I understand that the fund’s relationship with the Time’s Up foundation can be confusing,” said Uma Iyer, spokesperson for the legal defense fund. “However, the work and decisions made by the fund are completely independent of Time’s Up; we are separate organizations with separate staff. The fund remains a place for survivors to turn to, and I urge people to continue to contact us.
Dominique Huett, member of the Time’s Up Safety Working Group, said of the Time’s Up foundation: “They have to be non-partisan. This has been a critical flaw from the very beginning.
Lauren Weingarten, a client of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund who settled a case against CBS, said she “literally felt like the ground was falling under my nose” when she realized SKDK was working with the network and that CBS was one of Time’s Up’s strategic partners. It would have made a difference if someone from Time’s Up or the legal defense fund had explained the connection to CBS to her and assured her that it would not affect her case, she said.
Tchen said reviewing and disclosing potential conflicts “is the kind of thing to look at, to make sure we put in place the safeguards, protections and policies that we need.” The organization solicited comments from the survivor community.
“I believe his intentions are good and his heart is in the right place,” said Pamela Guest, a member of the Time’s Up Safety Working Group, who said survivors need to see “the action” to develop a accountability process.
“I understand that people are waiting to see what it looks like. That’s why we’re going to try to start putting “What does this proper design process process look like?” ”, Said Tchen.
“It may not seem fast enough to people,” Tchen said, “but actually, at the moment, I think that’s what we want to do, and it will absolutely involve outside people.”