Time’s Up, a group started by female Hollywood stars and producers, is working with labor and social activists to publicize the struggles of working women facing harassment on the job.
Gina Pitre had come to dread working at Walmart. A manager, she said, used to touch her inappropriately and make suggestive comments.
Pitre, 56, who earned $11.50 an hour fulfilling online orders in D’Iberville, Mississippi, said she felt degraded and angry.
Pitre saw a television news segment this winter about how female Hollywood stars and producers had started Time’s Up, a group to help women combat harassment. A related initiative, the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, connected Pitre with a lawyer and is helping fund her lawsuit against Walmart and one of its managers.
Hollywood, it appears, is starting to make good on its promise to focus on women outside the limelight and broaden the #MeToo movement.
Filed last month, the lawsuit, one of the first to arise from the Time’s Up fund, is part of a multipronged approach. Beyond the various legal aspects, the group is working with labor and social activists, as well as communications specialists and others, to publicize the struggles of working women facing harassment on the job.
Actress Susan Sarandon, along with Pitre, female Walmart workers and labor activists, signed a letter to the retailer’s chief executive, demanding changes in the company’s policies and procedures around harassment.
“I don’t care who you are,” said Pitre, who left her job at Walmart last month. “There is no cause for disrespect.”
In a statement, Walmart said it had conducted a “comprehensive investigation” into Pitre’s complaints and “could not substantiate a violation of our Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy.”
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“We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind and thoroughly investigate all sexual-harassment allegations,” the statement added.
Since its launch in January, the Time’s Up fund — which is administered by the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. — has raised about $22 million in donations to help pay for legal representation and other assistance for women facing harassment.
So far, about 2,700 workers have contacted the fund, saying they have been harassed. The largest number of complaints, about 9 percent, have come from the arts industry, followed by workers in the federal government, education and health care. Retail workers made up roughly 5 percent of the complaints.
Volunteers at the National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy group focused on women’s rights, have been reviewing the online complaints and providing many workers with names of lawyers who might be willing to take on their case. The law center does not vet the facts of each case but relies on the workers’ lawyers to make sure the claims are sound.
When deciding on funding, the staff uses a set of “priorities,” including whether the worker is in a low-wage job or in a male-dominated occupation.
“We hope to send a message to employers,” said Emily Martin, the law center’s general counsel. “Just because a woman doesn’t have a lot of money or connections doesn’t mean someone isn’t going to stand up for them.”
The assistance from Time’s Up is relatively modest — about $3,000 to help pay the initial lawyer fees. If the case goes to trial, the fund will provide up to $100,000 for fees.
In some cases, publicity is part of the strategy. The National Women’s Law Center will provide “communications support” — connecting women with public relations specialists — to help them call attention to their story.
Martin said publicity could help “broaden the impact” of the legal cases in combating harassment. Toward that end, the law center connected Pitre with Our Walmart, a worker advocacy group. This month, Our Walmart sent the letter signed by Pitre and Sarandon to Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, calling on the retailer to revamp its harassment procedures.
A Walmart spokesman said in a statement, “We have strong policies and procedures in place to address allegations of sexual harassment, and we believe our current practices meet or exceed many of the requests in the letter.”
When Pitre started working at Walmart in June 2016, she liked the job, she said. But after a few months, a supervisor started to harass her, including instances when he grabbed her breasts and made “unwelcome sexual comments,” according to her lawsuit.
Last July, she reported the harassment to a company ethics department, her lawsuit says. Pitre said she was eventually told that the company’s investigation was closed, but was never told the outcome.
A Walmart spokesman said the company does not disclose the outcomes of its harassment investigations to anyone, including the employee filing the complaint. The spokesman said this policy is aimed at the “privacy and confidentiality of all concerned.”
In its letter, Our Walmart demands the company start telling employees about the results of its investigations.