Remembering To Investigate As We Ride The Waves Of The #Metoo Sea Change

By: Washington State Employment Law Lawyer Elizabeth L. Van Moppes

As a woman in the work force for more than 30 years, I am personally proud of the many women who have come forward in the #MeToo movement, and equally gratified by the enterprises that are supporting them. We are witnessing a sea change the likes of which have not happened in over 40 years. As the mother of a young daughter, it is nearly impossible to put my feelings into words.

However, as a workplace investigator, I must continue to advise caution as we move forward in this wave of social progress. I do not question the veracity or the credibility of these brave victims but I find it important to point out the varying shades of grey occasionally involved in human relationships. I also find it important to again remind us that there are laws that govern our workplaces, and that we must look to these laws and processes when we are faced with these accusations, if these are in fact workplace violations.

Further, I find it vital that we remember one of the most basic tenets of our society: an individual is innocent until proven guilty. I remind us because, repeatedly, in the court of public opinion, particularly in social media, this is completely forgotten.

At this weekend’s Women’s March 2018 in Los Angeles, Scarlett Johansson’s words for James Franco apparently garnered her a great deal of public support. In a speech to the marchers, Johansson stated,

My mind baffles. How could a person publicly stand by an organization that helps provide support for victims of sexual assaults while privately preying on people who have no power?

Ending her speech, Johansson said,

No more pandering. No more feeling guilty about hurting someone’s feelings when something doesn’t feel right for me. I have made a promise to myself to be responsible to myself, that in order to trust my instincts I must first respect them.

Her reference was later confirmed to be against James Franco and the “Time’s Up” pin he wore at the recent Golden Globe Awards, which had inspired five accusers to come forward and call him out for sexual misconduct. Indiewire.com: Scarlett Johansson Calls Out James Franco at the Women’s March: ‘I Want My Pin Back’

And yet, the media is calling Johansson a hypocrite because, in 2014, she had defended Woody Allen when, one month after Woody Allen’s estranged daughter Dylan Farrow accused him of sexual abuse, Johansson told The Guardian: “It’s not like this is somebody that’s been prosecuted and found guilty of something, and you can then go, ‘I don’t support this lifestyle or whatever.’ I mean, it’s all guesswork.” MSN.com: Woody Allen supporter Scarlett Johansson sparks controversy after criticizing James Franco in Women’s March speech

At that time, Farrow called out the Hollywood actors and actresses who had appeared in Allen’s films, prompting the response from Johansson. Johansson herself has appeared in Allen’s films, “Match Point,” “Scoop” and “Vicky Christy Barcelona.”

So, let’s say I am asked to investigate Johansson for her statements. Does her mind really baffle? Has she really lost all respect for Franco? Or is she the hypocrite she is accused of being? How do I make a credibility determination about her and her statements? What factors should be considered?

If my source for Johansson’s statements is the media, assuming I do not have access to the witness herself, I look to the media’s motivation. Laying aside the political incentives of any particular publisher, to the extent possible, I know one thing for certain. The media wants me to consume their product. They want me to buy and buy more. So they are going to sell me the most salacious version of events possible in the most certain terms they can, rubbing right up against the laws of defamation and slander.

Knowing the source’s motive, I’m able to re-read this particular story with a keener eye. What does it tell me? Taking for example, the actual allegations against Franco, quite cleverly all it says is that Franco is accused of being a man who abused his position of power. It doesn’t say anything more specific than that. For all I know, other than the context, he could have been stealing office supplies from the studio. That alone makes me question pretty much everything in this article; it loses almost all of its credibility. So to learn more I need to look elsewhere for the specific allegations, the witnesses’ motives, and the credibility of those witnesses. And this is something the media is unlikely to do for me because that won’t sell newspapers or advertising space on their blog.

Returning to the veracity of Johansson’s statements, which I confirm were made via other sources, I must first determine if they do indeed contradict what she is quoted as having said in 2014. And this is rather interesting because in her speech over the weekend, she actually says, she will no longer pander. She will no longer worry about the feelings of someone else but will instead trust her own gut.

And that sounds like an admission that she was playing up to Woody Allen before; trying to play the Hollywood game with one of the most powerful producers there is. And, wow, isn’t that really what the entire Time’s Up movement is about? Aren’t these women saying they won’t do it anymore, that they will no longer please the egos and needs of the powerful men in Hollywood in an effort to further their careers? Instead of hypocrisy, I hear a confession. Perhaps a brave one at that.

So here is an example of why we await an investigation or process before we rush to judgment in any situation involving allegations of harassment, misconduct, or even hypocrisy, no matter the number of accusers.

Sadly, that doesn’t sell. What does? Accusations against a popular actor who won an award this weekend for his talent. Spread further by a beautiful actress who does not seem to be connected in any way to the accusations. At one of the rallies attended millions of people all over the world who care deeply about the issue of men in power abusing women. And then accusations of hypocrisy against her for the work she did and statements she made about a producer who has long been accused of sexual abuse of his own daughter. If that does not sell tabloid magazines and advertising, I do not know what will.

** These opinions are mine and not necessarily the opinions of Beresford Booth PLLC, or the attorneys with whom I work. **

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