If you read the New York Times and New Yorker Pulitzer-winning Weinstein articles in 2017 you were probably shocked by the description of what happened to women who refused to sign non-disclosure agreements with him – threat, intimidation, and smear. You'll be ‘dragged through the mud by your hair’ was one chilling threat from a Weinstein lawyer.
I recognised what I read straight away. I’d refused to agree to an NDA to settle a dispute with the Cartoon Network show “The Amazing World of Gumball” concerning the fallout of an incident which arose at a leaving drinks. My boss approached me early in the evening and began describing a middle-aged, naked prostitute he’d seen at a party. He described her body in graphic, derogatory, humiliating detail focusing intensely on her breasts and the feelings of sexual revulsion they provoked in him as she danced naked. I was compromised in how I could respond as I was freelance and he could fire me. I went home but wrote the next day:
“I have no idea what you thought you were doing talking to me like that last night but you were completely 100% out of line. What were you thinking? Did you think you were in a locker room with a bunch of saddo misogynists who would cheer along at what you found so grotesque about the prostitute’s old fat body as she danced naked at your friend’s party? Why did you choose to come over and tell me this, (apropos of nothing by the way) at a nice little gathering to say goodbye to Tony?”
He wrote back instantly to apologise and I was so relieved. “I’m not even gonna pretend that what came out of my mouth was defendable.” I wrote straight back: “Apology accepted. I know you’re better than this. Take care, see you Friday. L.” A couple of hours after writing his apology he went out for a drink with a male friend and decided he had nothing to apologise for and began the process of getting rid of me. After getting nowhere with the company internally, I brought proceedings under the Equality Act (s.26, paragraph 3) for loss of earnings. I was also studying part time for an MA in Shakespeare and claimed for earnings to the end of that course.
In the UK the tribunal for Equality cases does not award costs, so you can't get a lawyer on a no-win no-fee basis. The modest amount I would get if I won was less than the legal fees for a 20 day case. This Catch 22 situation meant I had to represent myself. The Cartoon Network had a mammoth legal team: specialist employment barrister (counsel), specialist solicitor (attorney), at least three in-house lawyers including chief counsel for the whole Europe region, a paralegal, a barrister's pupil, and numerous assistants and secretaries.
I had an equal opportunities leaflet. They'd bombarded me with mountains of work before the hearing, and I turned up at the first day with my right hand in a brace from an overuse injury, an unfinished witness statement, and reeling from lack of sleep. I felt like Alice in the rabbit hole, trying to make sense where I could and pick it up as I went along.
My ex-boss claimed it was 'prudish' of me to object; said he had described the same prostitute at a stag party on countless occasions in the past; said there was a big mixed group present, and said I was only upset because I was sensitive about my weight. Finally, he claimed that because I'd mentioned I was a fan of the comedian Rob Delaney (whom he described as 'raunchy' ) it was reasonable to speak to me in such terms.
You are given things to do by the judge in the breaks and in the evenings - things you don't know how to do, because you are essentially impersonating a barrister. I was frequently stopped for breaking rules in cross-examination which I didn't know existed and which I didn't understand. And when cross-examining my ex-boss about the detail of what he called her 'f***ing horrible t**s' I was so embarrassed I began to cry. I was absolutely rubbish and wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a lawyer.
The tribunal dismissed my case. It failed a crucial legal test when the tribunal found that because I admire Rob Delaney I could therefore not have found the prostitute descriptions humiliating and degrading. Even though the case was all about what happened after the incident, I had to pass that legal test. The tribunal found that the term 'locker room' in my email indicated to them that there was a big group of people there who all thought it was fine. I'd been unable to get access to my own emails and couldn't show the full extent of the success in my job before the incident. (These were passed to me by third parties after the Weinstein scandal, but it was too late. You can't use fresh evidence in an appeal).
However, I found it very hard to accept the 'Delaney' defence. Rob Delaney is a great humanitarian, and a feminist, whose wit is strictly egalitarian, even when it's as filthy as heck. This is key to his immense comic talent and it has nothing to do with my ex-boss's grim diatribe. I wanted to argue that misogyny resides in gender-related hatred, not in all sexually explicit references. The Equality Act says that my "perceptions" must be taken into account so I thought I would get leave to appeal - but permission was denied. Tribunals are permitted to deny women the right to authorship of their own perceptions, and to allow the guy to say what she was thinking and feeling, based on her tastes in comedy.
SMEAR AND PUNISHMENT - A NEW CASE
While I was failing to get permission to appeal the first case, I brought a new one. I'd been badly smeared by a producer, and my professional achievements had been seriously undermined. This time I borrowed the money for a lawyer. The Equality Act protects those who bring proceedings under it from being punished for doing so. The Equality Act knows what people are like.
The week long hearing was set for 2017 when the company suddenly engaged Squire Patton Boggs - the law firm famed for representing Cambridge Analytica and for its association with Donald Trump’s ex personal lawyer Michael Cohen. They obtained multiple delays and preliminary hearings which I had to hire a lawyer for. The good news is they failed to get the case struck out. The bad news is I had to use up all my money defending their applications. This is why I have come to crowdfunding - as an absolute last resort - to ask for help so I don't have to go in alone, again, and be mangled up again by their legal crushing machine. My case is strong. But even the strongest cases need lawyers who know the rules and the case law.
Winning will discourage this tactic of smear from being used against women who bring proceedings under the Equality Act. The final hearing is going ahead 11-19 February 2019 at the Central London Employment Tribunal. I was 51 when it started fighting for the right to oppose misogyny without having my life dismantled for doing so. I'm 55 now. Gone is the career I enjoyed, the wedding my partner and I were planning, the life I had built for myself. All my spare time and money has gone into fighting for justice.
Wouldn't it be easier if men who are afflicted by misogyny would just take a minute to think what it means to have contempt for something as natural as women ageing? Is it really that hard to just STOP humiliating half the planet the second it passes 40? Wouldn't that be easier, smarter, and more civilised than trying to scare, silence and smear us when we say: No. I don't want you to talk to me like that.
Thanks for reading this far.