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Sexual harassment and assault - justice is possible

Mandy Bhattal and Tariro Nyoka, from the employment and discrimination team, discuss the recent downfall of Harvey Weinstein and the hope that it will encourage others to report sexual harassment in the workplace

Harvey Weinstein
Related Areas of Practice:
Mandy Bhattal is a solicitor who works in the Leigh Day Employment department and specialises in discrimination. Tariro Nyoka is a paralegal in the Employment department
On 11 March 2020 disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison. In February 2020 he was convicted of sexually assaulting former production assistant Miriam Haley in 2006 and raping aspiring actress Jessica Mann in 2013.
 
The unravelling of Weinstein began with a  New York Times article published on 5 October 2017 detailing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein.

Later that month, it was announced that Harvey Weinstein had been fired by the board of his company, with immediate effect.

The company said the decision was made "in light of new information about misconduct". After this action, allegations from 13 more women were published in the New Yorker magazine, including three accusations of rape.
 
Two weeks after the initial New York Times article, a group of Weinstein Company employees wrote an open letter asking their employer to release them from the NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) that stopped them speaking publicly about what they have experienced and witnessed. In May 2018 it was reported that Weinstein Company was releasing all employees from their NDAs.
 
It was on 25 October 2017 that Miriam Haley came forward.
 
The above set into motion the events that finally saw Harvey Weinstein sentenced for despicable behaviour which went unchecked and unchallenged for far too long.
 
In our line of work in employment law, cases involving sexual assault and rape are thankfully rare, however, we do deal with a wide range of sexual harassment claims. Sexual harassment can sometimes be the start of a perpetrator’s sexually predatory behaviour and it can have a devastating impact on victims.
 
In our blog last year in which we discussed sexual harassment in the workplace we pointed to the fact that sexual harassment is a difficult topic to discuss. Invariably someone who is subjected to sexual harassment will experience several thought processes, such as ‘did I imagine it?’ or ‘I’m sure they didn’t mean it’.

These thoughts are often barriers to victims reporting incidents of sexual harassment. Often individuals may feel that they will not be believed as the person  they are accusing is often in a position of power and protected within the organisation they work for.
 
Sexual harassment can take many forms and is not limited to physical contact or lewd comments. Sexual harassment occurs when unwanted conduct of a sexual nature makes the victim feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended.

There is no need for the victim to make it clear that the conduct is unwanted, and the conduct can include sexual comments or jokes, suggestive looks, staring or leering and displaying sexually graphic pictures, posters or photos. A person can be sexually harassed by someone of the same or a different sex.
 
Recently one of our clients, Kim Beaney, was successful in her sexual harassment case against Highways England.

She was given £74,000 in compensation by the Employment Tribunal after being sexually harassed by her boss for months and then being subjected to a “shambolic” complaints procedure at Highways England.

Kim suffered months of harassment, starting on the day of her interview, from her boss who continued to remind her of his power over her job and future career. Despite making it clear that she did not want to be involved in a romantic relationship with him he continued to send her inappropriate messages and pictures.
 
Your workplace should not be somewhere that you feel intimidated, humiliated or degraded, and the law is there to protect victims of sexual harassment.
 
Harvey Weinstein’s convictions and the recent media coverage of Kim Beaney’s case shows that justice is possible. 
 
It is hoped that more people who have been victims of sexual harassment and assault will be encouraged to stand up to sexual predators and bullies and show them that their time is up, and they will be held accountable for their behaviour.

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