Two days after six women accused CBS chief Les Moonves of sexual harassment, John Oliver explored the legacy of the #MeToo movement and why sexual harassment continues to pervade the workplace.
“While companies may have their own policies, from a legal standpoint, sexual harassment is considered a form of employment discrimination – just like discrimination on the basis of race or age,” he said. “It becomes unlawful when it is severe or pervasive enough that it creates a hostile environment or when it includes a ‘quid pro quo,’ meaning employees have to endure the harassment or risk losing their jobs.”
Oliver admitted that the “court of public opinion” isn’t an ideal place to address individual claims of harassment. “But it’s worth considering why some who’ve been harassed feel the need to speak publicly,” he added, “because it often has to do with the fact that we have a piecemeal, inadequate process for addressing the issue privately” – from the legal complications of filing lawsuits to conflicts of interest with HR the fact that “there is no federal remedy for workplace sexual harassment” for businesses with fewer than 15 employees.
Oliver enthused that #MeToo seems to have positioned the U.S. on “the verge of a national reckoning about sexual harassment,” he observed how the culture promised – and failed to build upon – a similar awakening throughout the 1990s.
Oliver interviewed Anita Hill, a professor at Brandeis University, who became famous in 1991 when she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her former boss, of sexual misconduct during his confirmation before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hill praised #MeToo movement for renewing awareness of the issue.
“I guess the problem is there that awareness of the problem doesn’t necessarily make something better,” Oliver interjected. “I’ve been aware of Coldplay for years, but that hasn’t seemed to help the issue go away.”
Hill addressed the flawed mindset that parents need to raise their daughters to avoid setting them up to be sexually harassed. She also urged those who witness harassment to speak up. “We need you to step up and realize that, at this point in time, there are no innocent bystanders,” she said. “If you are aware of something – you acknowledge it; you know it’s wrong; but you don’t do anything about it – it’s the same as participating in it.”