The 2018 Golden Globe Awards highlighted the national movement against sexual harassment with a multitude of actors and activists speaking out on the topic. Celebrities, many of who appeared in solidarity wearing black, seized on the movement’s momentum, pledging meaningful change. The #metoo movement and the resulting “Time’s Up” initiative have underscored the urgency of the movement and seem to underlie an opportunity to define and desist sexual harassment in our country.
Laura Dern eloquently described a future where “we teach our children that speaking out without the fear of retribution is our culture’s new North Star.” Oprah Winfrey said, “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.”
Inspirational as these speeches were, the cultural movement is greatly outpacing legal reform. Oprah told the Globes audience how, as a child, sitting on a linoleum floor in 1964 in her mother’s kitchen, she watched Anne Bancroft present the award for best actor at the Academy Awards to Sidney Poitier. Last night, as I watched the awards show and impassioned speeches with my own young daughter, I was well aware that 1964 was also the year that Title VII was created. Title VII is more than 50 years old and badly needs to be updated to reflect our society’s current challenges in defending against discrimination and harassment. Today, many states do not even have laws expressly prohibiting sexual harassment, much less providing a clear definition of and consequences for the courts to consider. Until these changes are made, time is “not up.”
In a speech that has since spurned calls for a presidential run in 2020, Oprah also said, “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” Speaking truth is, indeed, one of our core requirements for our judicial system to function equitably. However, noble as the truth maybe, the true power of justice comes from consequences and remedies prescribed by law, both as a way to establish our cultural morality and to provide a deterrent to the offensive actions. Absent a comprehensive, contemporary body of laws defining and governing sexual harassment, at both the federal and state levels, I’m afraid our time has not (yet) come.
Laura Noble is Managing Partner of The Noble Law Firm, with offices in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Charlotte. The Firm provides forward-thinking and trusted counsel to victims of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. www.thenoblelawcom
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