Margot Robbie plays a fictional character in the upcoming movie about sexual harassment at Fox News. In the trailer for “Bombshell,” her co-workers glance at her as she heads to the elevator. Her hand shakes as she presses the button for the second floor C-suite.
Then, Gretchen Carlson, played by Nicole Kidman, gets in, head high, but struggling to smile. Eventually, Carlson blew the whistle and sued Roger Ailes and Fox News for sexual harassment. But not before she collected evidence of the misbehavior and contacted a lawyer.
Women (and to a lesser extent, men) who speak out about sexual harassment or improprieties face the usual challenges as whistleblowers. They are fired, shunned by co-workers and personally attacked – very personally. Unlike IRS and SEC whistleblowers, they usually have no path to compensation unless they sue. It’s difficult to maintain anonymity.
This week, two cases emerged that highlight the nightmare of blowing the whistle on gropers, flashers, rapists, and pedophiles. The revelation of secret funding from Jeffrey Epstein has tarred the mighty MIT Media Lab and brought down its super-smart, well-respected director. And, a lawyer for Harvey Weinstein offered to “place” articles to cast accuser Rose McGowan as “unglued,” according to documents published in a new book.
Jessica Copen, a writer for the Women Whistleblowers website, offers this advice for those wondering whether they should go to the press or to a lawyer first.
“Before you go to the media, my advice would be to go to an experienced attorney who specializes in whistleblower/sexual harassment issues. It’s important not to destroy/ignore/withhold documents or information that pertain to your claims, even if you think it makes you look bad,” she wrote in an email. And don’t use social media to air grievances, Copen added.
Here are some details on the Media Lab case from The Boston Globe:
Top level MIT fund-raising and finance officials were aware of Jeffrey Epstein’s extensive ties to the university’s Media Lab and agreed to keep them hidden, e-mails from a whistle-blower obtained by the Globe reveal.
The e-mails suggest that, far from acting alone, Media Lab employees and the research facility’s former director, Joi Ito, had a tacit understanding with some central university administrators to keep quiet Epstein’s financial contributions and his role in helping recruit other high-level donors.
Signe Swenson, a former development staffer at the Media Lab has said she resigned in 2016 in part over the Epstein links to the lab. After getting legal help, she told the Globe that she came forward to give a fuller picture of the relationships and who knew about them.
“When I heard the statements coming from Ito and MIT, I could tell they didn’t capture the whole story and were so carefully crafted not to deny what I knew to be true either,” Swenson said. “I saw MIT was closing ranks. I couldn’t accept that.”
The New Yorker broke the disturbing story. Swenson told the magazine she feels guilty about not coming forward sooner.
“I was a participant in covering up for Epstein in 2014…Listening to what comments are coming out of the lab or M.I.T. about the relationship—I just see exactly the same thing happening again.”
In the Weinstein case, The New York Times offered some details – and a document — on aggressive retaliation proposed for Harvey Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan.
From the story, which is based on the book by Times reporters: She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement.
(L)awyer Lisa Bloom, a prominent victims’ rights attorney, was working behind the scenes with Mr. Weinstein — at a rate of $895 an hour — to quash the journalists’ investigation and thwart his accusers. In a confidential memo to Mr. Weinstein that Ms. Bloom wrote in December 2016, which is reproduced in “She Said,” she offered to help him damage the reputation of one of his accusers, Rose McGowan, and portrayed her background as a victims’s rights advocate as an asset.
“I feel equipped to help you against the Roses of the world, because I have represented so many of them,” Ms. Bloom wrote, before laying out a multistep playbook for how to intimidate accusers or paint them as liars. One of Ms. Bloom’s suggested tactics for undermining Ms. McGowan: “We can place an article re her becoming increasingly unglued, so that when someone Googles her this is what pops up and she’s discredited.”
The story reports that Bloom and Weinstein arrived at the Times the day before publication of the first story and offered information they said would exposes several accusers “as unreliable and mentally unstable.”