Limits to liability in #MeToo movement claims

| Feb 4, 2021 | Sexual Harassment |

The urgency and speed at which social media was able to spread awareness of #MeToo came to the forefront in 2017 as celebrities, news correspondents and many others shared vivid accounts of abuse that made ignoring it impossible. The force of such sexual harassment movements has empowered victims by giving them a voice where a culture of silence has traditionally allowed the practice to continue unabated in many work settings.

The areas where public focus and awareness can affect change in public policy, and even law, concerns the scope and authority of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) as well as the statutes of limitations in place in criminal cases that often have prevented the testimony of victims who came forward too late to file a claim.

The statute of limitations and NDAs

The purpose of a statute of limitations is to ensure timely prosecutions and to not violate the constitutional due process rights of a defendant to a speedy trial. Where there is insufficient evidence or where older claims have fallen outside the statute of limitations for criminal cases, however, there are avenues in civil courts that can provide justice.

The standard of proof in civil case is a preponderance of the evidence, which establishes the negligence of the defendant as the proximate cause of injury. This is an easier standard to prove than the reasonable doubt standard in criminal cases, and it can expose the guilty to liability that can negatively impact the institutions and businesses associated with them.

Movements such as #MeToo have also affected change in some state laws that now either restrict or bar nondisclosure agreements (NDAs). NDAs are often part of an employment contract and can cover up sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. Employees are required to sign them as a condition of employment, which will prohibit from them filing complaints for sexual harassment.

Federal and state Law

Michigan law defines workplace sexual harassment as:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances or verbal or physical behavior
  • Quid pro quo for employment opportunities
  • Submission or rejection of verbal or physical conduct as a factor in decisions that affect employment
  • Verbal or physical conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive employment environment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that bans workplace discrimination based on many categories including race, color, religion or sex.

If you have faced sexual harassment in the workplace and wish to file a claim, it is important to seek an aggressive and experienced employment law lawyer to help you fight for your rights and seek redress.