Time’s Up legal defense fund takes on 1,000 cases

Time’s Up legal defense fund takes on 1,000 cases
@TinaTchen/Twitter via CNN
The campaign, cofounded by Tina Tchen, pictured, was launched in January by some of Hollywood's most powerful women to combat sexual harassment across industries, and has raised $21 million for its legal defense fund.

The women behind Time’s Up are making good on their promise.

The campaign, launched in January by some of Hollywood’s most powerful women to combat sexual harassment across industries, has raised $21 million for its legal defense fund.

Tina Tchen, who served as the chief of staff for former First Lady Michelle Obama, is co-leading the group’s legal aid efforts. Tchen told CNN they’ve received more than 1,600 requests for legal support, administered by the National Women’s Law Center, since January 1.

“About a thousand of those folks are already linked up with lawyers,” Tchen said. “But the remaining 600 are in the process of getting connected to lawyers.”

Although $21 million sounds like a lot, Tchen said it’s not nearly enough.

“We’ve recruited lawyers and a lot of these lawyers and public relations professionals are going to do this work pro bono and continue to represent people for free, but we also know the need is great and not every lawyer can afford to give free legal services away,” Tchen said. “Anybody who’s been involved in court cases and litigation knows that $21 million — as much as that is — isn’t enough, especially as we’re getting thousands of requests for help.”

Although Hollywood has been at the forefront of the Time’s Up campaign, Tchen said individuals from 60 different industries have reached out for assistance.

“Construction workers, prison guards, police officers, there are men who have come forward too,” she said. “There’s some men who have experienced sexual harassment, and then there’s some men who are calling, for example, on behalf of their wives or loved ones.”

Tchen, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, attended Northwestern University School of Law. After working as a corporate litigator for 23 years, she went on to serve the former first lady and led the now-disbanded White House Council on Women and Girls.

“I got exposed to the women’s movement at a very young age,” she said. “When I graduated from college I moved to Springfield, Illinois, right in 1978 where it was the hotbed of the national campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment,” Tchen recalled. “No matter what job I’ve had, doing work on behalf of women’s rights has been part of [it]. If it wasn’t part of my day job, it was part of my after hours job.”

As more accounts of workplace harassment and discrimination have been brought to light, there have been calls to eliminate the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDA) to conceal claims. But Tchen doesn’t think NDA’s should be done away with entirely.

“This is my personal view, is sometimes the victim actually wants a nondisclosure agreement,” she said. “She doesn’t want all the details of what happened to her out there in the public eye. I really believe part of this is to get victims agency over the decisions and what’s affecting them. That’s why having a lawyer is so important.”

With Hollywood’s award season coming to a close, Tchen addressed how Time’s Up campaign plans to continue momentum.

“We need to just keep bringing these stories forward, and we need to keep talking about workplaces that need to change and lifting up employers that are doing a good job,” Tchen said. “We know the current laws aren’t adequate to protect all workers. There are clearly going to have to be some public policy changes.”

While difficult work remains, Tchen said, the message of Time’s Up is simple.

“We’re really talking about power,” Tchen said. “You cannot use your influence as the boss to treat people inappropriately. That’s all this is about.”