The Bloomberg 50: Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund

Published on:
December 6th, 2018
Tina Tchen, partner, Buckley Sandler LLP • Roberta Kaplan, partner, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP • Hilary Rosen, partner, SKDKnickerbocker LLC • Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO, National Women’s Law Center Credit: Bloomberg

Established in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations, the fund connects victims of workplace sexual harassment with lawyers, then helps pay legal bills with donations from 50 states and 80 countries that have swelled to $22 million from $13 million.

Bloomberg News reporter Rebecca Greenfield talked to Tchen and Kaplan about the Washington, D.C.-based fund, which gets public-relations assistance from Rosen’s firm and is administered through Goss Graves’s law center. Excerpts –

How has the money you’ve raised compared with what you thought you’d raise?

Tchen - I’d set a goal for $10 million. Kaplan - What was it George W. Bush said about the Iraq War? Shock and awe? I remember being in shock and awe as the money started coming in. Tchen -People like Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, Shonda Rhimes, Oprah Winfrey—every donor is on the GoFundMe page.

How many claims have you gotten? How many lawyers are participating?

Tchen - We’re approaching 3,800 requests for help. We’ve had about 800 lawyers across the country volunteer to be part of the network. We’ve announced a couple of big sexual harassment cases, like against McDonald’s and Walmart. [In public statements, both companies have said they don’t tolerate workplace harassment.]

What types of women are reaching out?

Tchen - Two-thirds of the people are low-income—it’s first responders, it’s teachers, it’s fast-food workers.

Kaplan - We don’t just want people who follow people who follow people on Twitter. It’s become difficult, if not impossible, for low- and middle-income women who’ve been discriminated against or sexually harassed at their jobs to find lawyers. It’s not economical for them to take the cases. If you have one person who’s not earning much money, the verdicts aren’t that high.

How much do lawyers usually make off cases like this?

Kaplan - The way judges and juries calculate damages is you take the woman’s salary and figure out how much she lost as a result of the behavior and what kind of future salary would she lose. With someone not earning a lot of money, those numbers have not been very high. In the Southern District of New York, they were generally like $100,000 and below. The standard contingency fee is one-third of what’s recovered. So for multiple years of work on a case, a lawyer might get $30,000. A lot of the lawyers in the network have agreed to do this on a pro bono basis.

You don’t give out a ton of money per case.

Tchen - Any one case could overwhelm the resources of the fund. There’s a balance between being equitable and providing enough money that would actually draw lawyers.

How will you keep this sustainable?

Kaplan - I don’t even think we’re in the first half of the baseball game here. We’re in maybe the second or third inning. The pervasiveness of the problem has been stunning. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done and a lot more women out there who are going to want to tell their stories.


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