Kenji Yoshino and Julie Fink ’05 discuss how the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is combating sexual harassment

Julie Fink and Kenji Yoshino in discussion
Julie Fink '05 and Kenji Yoshino

On October 17, just about a year after the New York Times published its investigative report on sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Julie Fink ’05, managing partner at Kaplan Hecker & Fink, joined Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law Kenji Yoshino for a conversation about the legal future of the #MeToo movement, including the role of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Co-founded by firm partner Roberta Kaplan, the fund aims to be #MeToo’s legal arm, by providing subsidized legal support to those who have experienced sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. The discussion was part of the Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging’s ongoing speaker series and was co-sponsored by the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network.

Part of the power of the #MeToo movement, Fink said, is that it personalizes an issue that many people previously have only heard about in terms of statistics: “One in three women is going to be a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime, and we know that, but it is different to hear the people that you work with, that you are friends with, that you admire say, ‘This happened to me too,’” Fink said. 

The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund helps claimants making allegations of sexual assault and harassment find legal representation. “If you are a low-income worker, there aren’t many lawyers that see a financial upside to taking a case against a large company. And so we thought that there were really large, very significant portions of the population who didn’t have access to lawyers to bring claims of sexual harassment in the workplace,” Fink said. Since the establishment of the fund, Fink said, more than 3,000 women and men have called its line to be matched up with lawyers around the country. According to the organization’s website, it has committed to funding 68 cases thus far.

Most recently, through the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, Fink’s firm took on as a client Moira Donegan, the creator of a Google spreadsheet that allowed women to anonymously report allegations of inappropriate behavior by men in the media. On October 10, Donegan was sued for libel by a writer whose name appeared on the list.

“It is important that people not be afraid to come forward. That is what animates ‘Me Too’—raising your hand and saying ‘this happened to me,’” Fink said. “The importance of being there to represent people like Moira is to make sure that people aren’t intimidated.”

When Yoshino asked Fink for her response to Brett Kavanaugh’s recent US Supreme Court confirmation hearings—in which Kavanaugh faced claims of sexual assault before being confirmed as a justice—Fink said that she wished there had been a fuller investigation, and that the hearings had gone differently. But she added, “The path to progress is never a straight line—there are always setbacks and always disappointments.”

Fink said she believed that #MeToo is a cultural movement that is not going away: “I’m really moved every day by the courage of people coming forward, and the commitment of people from Time’s Up and elsewhere that are working to help them… I think that that’s progress, and I don’t think that genie is going to go back in the bottle.”

Watch the full video of the conversation (56 min):

Posted November 9, 2018