Weinstein Scandal Inspires Legislative Action Near and Far

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By Genevieve Douglas

The breadth of recent sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood may finally be a wake-up call to cities, states, and Congress that there are steps they can take to better protect potentially vulnerable individuals.

Seemingly anticipating the coming storm of scandal, just one day before allegations of sexual misconduct against longtime Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein went public, the federal government took steps on the issue. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced the launch of two new harassment-prevention training programs. On Nov. 7, the commission also sent newly finalized guidance on sexual harassment to the Office of Management and Budget for approval.

Allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein and veteran director James Toback now number in the hundreds, and new charges against a variety of celebrities and others in the public eye seem to pop up daily.

But legislators are taking action.

At the local level, lawmakers are hoping to root out sexual harassment where it could be most rampant:

  •  In New York, the fashion world is the focus of a bill (A8752) introduced Oct. 25. The Models’ Harassment Protection Act would amend the state’s anti-discrimination laws to provide protections for models regardless of whether they’re considered employees or independent contractors.
  •  In Chicago, hotel workers are getting added protections. The “Hands Off Pants On” ordinance, passed by the Chicago City Council Oct. 11, requires hotels to provide panic buttons or portable notification devices to employees who work alone in guest rooms or restrooms.
  • Illinois adopted a resolution (H.R. 687) Nov. 7 that would create a special task force to conduct a comprehensive review of “the legal and social consequences of sexual discrimination and harassment, in both the public and private sectors.”
Slightly fewer than half of the states currently require any kind of training for certain groups of employees. Some state requirements pertain to employees in the private sector and some in the public sector. States with training requirements include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. The remaining 26 states have no specific sexual harassment training requirements.

Legislators Aren’t Exempt

While lawmakers have been drafting bills for employees and workplaces alike, they haven’t been exempting themselves.

  •  On Nov. 7, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced a resolution co-sponsored by members of both parties that would require additional sexual harassment training for senators, Senate staff, and interns. The Senate Training on Prevention of Sexual Harassment resolution (S. Res. 323) also calls for a survey to gather information about instances of sexual harassment or related behavior in the Senate.
  •  Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) announced Nov. 9 she would introduce the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress (ME TOO Congress) Act to overhaul current sexual harassment policies on Capitol Hill. The bill would take aim at mandatory waiting periods that prevent lawmakers and staff members from making formal complaints for 90 days and would also ban confidentiality agreements.
  •  The Massachusetts House adopted an order (H.B. 3983) Oct. 27 that requires a comprehensive review of all structures, policies, procedures, and operations of the human resources function for the House, including those that relate to ensuring a workplace free of sexual harassment and retaliation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com; Jo-el Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

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