TIME'S UP

In 2018, Oprah Winfrey became the first Black woman to win the Cecil B. DeMille Award for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.  In her rousing acceptance speech, she repeated the mantra that “time is up” for those who harass, oppress, and discriminate against women.[1] 

Winfrey’s “Time’s Up” declaration coincided with the creation of the TIME’S UP Foundation, an organization funded by several Hollywood A-listers with the goal of eradicating gender-based discrimination in the workplace and beyond.[2]  The TIME’S UP Foundation works across industries like entertainment, health care, advertising, and tech to disrupt the power imbalances that lead to discrimination and promote safety and equity in the workplace.[3]  The Foundation engages with issues of gender-equality and discrimination through research and activism, including litigation. 

In January 2018, TIME’S UP launched the Legal Defense Fund to help vulnerable workers pursue their legal claims for harassment and retaliation.  The Legal Defense Fund has four major initiatives: 

  • connecting those who have experienced workplace discrimination with attorneys,
  • funding cases challenging workplace sexual harassment and retaliation,
  • providing media and storytelling assistance for plaintiffs, and
  • awarding outreach grants to organizations that work with vulnerable populations.[4]

The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund

The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund will help pay the legal fees and costs for certain cases of workplace or career-related sexual harassment and retaliation.[5] 

As a first step, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund pairs individuals who have experienced sexual misconduct in the workplace, education, or health care setting with attorneys in their area.  Using a nationwide network of attorneys called the Legal Network for Gender Equality, the Legal Defense Fund provides the name and information for three attorneys specializing in workplace harassment and retaliation.[6]  As of June 2020, the network will also connect people with attorneys specializing in obtaining financial coronavirus relief.  It is incumbent upon the person seeking representation to schedule the initial consultation, which the attorneys in the network agree to provide for free. 

While some attorneys may agree to take cases at reduced rates or pro bono (for free), the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund offers funding for certain cases involving:

  • Low-wage workers, such as restaurant, agricultural, and domestic worker, because of the obstacles faced by those individuals—often women of color and immigrant women—in obtaining adequate legal representation.
  • Male-dominated occupations, such as construction and policing, because such harassment perpetuates stereotypes that exclude women from those occupations.
  • High-profile offenders, because there is often a large power disparity that makes individuals experiencing harassment “uniquely vulnerable.”
  • Harassment of multiple workers at a company, because of the potential to stop a “systemic or company-wide pattern or practice of sexual harassment.”
  • Claims that have the potential to establish important precedent or advance novel legal issues, because such claims can be the vehicle for broad legal reform.
  • Allegations of extreme retaliation against individuals reporting sexual harassment, such as a lawsuit or media campaign.

Since its founding three years ago, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund agreed to fund 256 legal cases—out of 390 applications—and provided media assistance for 98 of those cases.[7]  Roughly 18% of the cases funded involved defending against defamation claims brought by harassers against a survivor for speaking out about the sexual misconduct.[8]  Overall, the Legal Defense Fund awarded over $11 million to cover legal costs ranging from initial investigations to trial and appeals.[9]

Other Work

In addition to funding individual legal cases, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund awards grants to various organizations that support and provide resources to low-wage workers who have experienced workplace sexual harassment or retaliation.  In 2018, the Legal Defense Fund awarded $750,000 to 18 organizations, such as the National Domestic Workers Alliance to offer know-your-rights trainings and DC Jobs with Justice, which provides legal support for restaurant, retail, and construction workers who experience sexual misconduct.[10]

How to Apply for Representation and Funding

The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is housed and administered by the National Women’s Law Center (“NWLC”) in Washington, D.C.

Representation:  Individuals may apply to be matched with an attorney through the NWLC website at https://nwlc.org/legal-assistance/.

The National Women’s Law Center matches applicants to attorneys in their state, but it does not screen cases beyond verifying that the claim involves harassment or discrimination.  Thus, during the initial consultation, the attorney will evaluate the facts of the case to determine whether a valid legal claims exists.

Funding:  Attorneys should carefully review the facts of each case to determine whether a timely and valid legal claim exists.[11]  If the case is accepted, then applications for funding should be submitted by the attorney—not the client—to the National Women’s Law Center for consideration.  In addition to meeting one or more of the priority criteria above (e.g., cases involving low-wage workers or male-dominated occupations), attorney-applicants are asked to describe the basis for liability, their experience in the areas of law relevant to the case, and the financial needs and budget.[12]

Awards for affirmative claims are based on a rate of $200 per hour for attorney’s fees and are subject to an overall cap of $163,000 depending on phase of litigation.[13]  For defensive claims, attorney’s fees are awarded at $300 per hour with a $250,000 maximum.

If you believe you have experienced harassment or retaliation at work, school, or in a health care setting, please contact an attorney.  Wood Litigation is a proud member of the Legal Network for Gender Equity and experienced in fighting discrimination at the state and federa

[1] A transcript of Winfrey’s speech can be found at: https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/08/entertainment/oprah-globes-speech-transcript/index.html.

[2] TIME’S UP Foundation, “About,” available at: https://timesupnow.org/about/.

[3] TIME’S UP Foundation, “Our Work,” available at: https://timesupfoundation.org/work/#industries.

[4] TIME’S UP Foundation, “TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund 2019 Annual Report,” at p. 2, available at: https://timesupfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2019-TULDF-Annual-Report-Final.pdf (“2019 Annual Report”).

[5] NWLC, “Attorney Application for Financial Support from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund,” available at: https://nwlc.org/times-up-legal-defense-fund/attorney-application-for-financial-support-from-the-times-up-legal-defense-fund/.

[6] NWLC, “Legal Network for Gender Equality,” available at: https://nwlc.org/join-the-legal-network/.

[7] NWLC, “Making A Difference: TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund Three Years and Looking Forward,” at p. 10, available at: https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/2021.03.11-English_NWLC_ThreeYears.pdf.

[8] 2019 Annual Report, at p. 11.

[9] 2019 Annual Report, at p. 8.

[10] NWLC, “TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund Awards $750,000 to Organizations Serving Low-Wage Workers Who Experience Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” (Aug. 14, 2018), available at: https://nwlc.org/press-releases/times-up-legal-defense-fund-awards-grants-workers-experience-sexual-harassment/.

[11] NWLC, “Tips for Success,” available at: https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Tips-for-Success-5.pdf

[12] NWLC, “2021 Attorney Application,” available at: https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/2021-04-23-Attorney-Application-for-Financial-Support.pdf (“2021 Attorney Application”).

[13] 2021 Attorney Application, at p. 6.


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