Time’s Up to stop operations, move resources to legal fund

Time’s Up to stop operations, move resources to legal fund

The Golden Globes carpet usually sparkles with crystal-encrusted gowns in pastel colors, but it looked different in January 2018: The ballgowns were black, and the key accessory of the night was a “Time’s Up” pin. On stage, Oprah Winfrey brought the guests to their feet with a warning to powerful abusers: “Your time is up!”

Five years later, Time’s Up — the now-controversial anti-harassment organization founded with fanfare in the early days of the #MeToo anti-sexual-assault reign — is going out of business, at least in its current form.

A year after promising a “major reset” following a scandal involving its executives’ dealings with then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo amid allegations of sexual harassment, the group tells The Associated Press that Time’s Up is moving remaining funds to the independently administered Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, and stop other operations.

The decision, which chairwoman Gabrielle Sulzberger said will take effect by the end of January, caps a turbulent period for an organization that made a major public entrance on Jan. 1, 2018, with newspaper ads that published an open letter signed by hundreds of prominent Hollywood movie stars, producers and agents.

After the highly visible show of support days later at the Globes, donations big and small poured into a $24 million GoFundMe earmarked for the fledgling Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. The following months saw the formation of the rest of Time’s Up, which promised a housecleaning of an industry rocked by the stunning allegations against mogul Harvey Weinstein.

In January 2023, Time’s Up looked very different after a radical self-cleaning – triggered by a damaging internal report – with only a skeleton crew and three remaining board members. Remaining funds now total about $1.7 million, Sulzberger said; the millions from the early donations already went to the legal fund.

“It was not an easy decision, but the board was unanimous that it is the right decision and the most impactful way for us to move forward,” Sulzberger told the AP.

She and the remaining board members — Colleen DeCourcy and Ashley Judd, the actress and one of the most powerful early Weinstein accusers — will resign as Time’s Up Now and the Time’s Up Foundation, the two groups that formed what is commonly known as Time’s Up, screw of.

“Quite simply, the legal defense fund really reflects who we were, not just at inception, but really at our core,” Sulzberger said. “We really just decided that at the end of the day, we had to go back to our roots. (The fund) was the first initiative that we formed and funded, and is still at the heart of everything we stood for.”

Administered by the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, the fund provides legal and administrative assistance to workers, most of whom identify as low-income and 40% as people of color. Time’s Up Now and the Time’s Up Foundation had focused on politics and advocacy.

Uma Iyer, vice president of marketing and communications at the law center, says the fund has helped connect more than 4,700 workers with legal services, funding or committing funding to 350 cases out of just over 500 that applied.

Labor and civil rights attorney Debra Katz, long among the nation’s most prominent lawyers working on sexual harassment cases, called the fund a crucial resource for survivors and their advocates.

“They understand these issues, and they’ve always been completely survivor-centric and respectful of survivors,” Katz said of the National Women’s Law Center, with which she has worked for decades.

But Katz, who represented central Cuomo prosecutor Charlotte Bennett, was highly critical of the Time’s Up organization, particularly former executive director Tina Tchen and former board chair Roberta Kaplan’s relationship with the Cuomo administration. Both resigned in August 2021 amid uproar over disclosures they had advised after Cuomo was accused of misconduct and that Tchen initially discouraged other Time’s Up executives from commenting publicly on allegations by prosecutor Lindsey Boylan.

“You can’t backchannel to companies and entities and think you gave strategic advice when you’re also suing those entities because they’ve committed serious wrongdoing,” Katz said. “That’s what they tried to do. It only erodes the trust of survivors.”

Current Time’s Up leaders are careful to point out that the organization was instrumental in the fight for legislation that increased protections for workers, including extending the statute of limitations for rape in 15 states, and working to achieve equality in women’s soccer. The group also worked on issues involving working families affected by COVID-19, such as acute sick leave.

“I have two grown daughters, and the kinds of issues I faced as a young woman in the workplace, I feel like Time’s Up has made a big difference in moving that needle,” Sulzberger said.

Despite early fundraising success, Time’s Up was plagued by problems from the start, often accused of being too aligned with Hollywood’s rich and powerful — a theme of the early #MeToo movement in general. The group also had leadership problems. In February 2019, CEO Lisa Borders resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment against her son. A little more than two years later came Tchen’s and Kaplan’s departure.

The organization announced its “reset” in November 2021, publishing a report prepared by an outside consultant that listed a number of shortcomings. Among them: confusion over purpose and mission, ineffective communication internally and externally, the appearance of being politically biased and seeming too connected to Hollywood.

Part of the problem, the report said, was how quickly the organization grew, ramping up “like a jet to a rocket ship overnight.”

The staff was reduced to a skeleton crew, and the few remaining board members spent a year, according to Sulzberger, listening to the group’s many stakeholders before making a decision.

Katz said it would be wrong to see the struggles of Time’s Up — or any organization, for that matter — as a sign of weakness in the overall #MeToo movement. Rather the opposite, she said: It shows the movement’s resilience.

“As movements develop and become more mature, they go through phases. But if anything, this shows the power of this movement because victims of sexual violence came forward and said, ‘We’re not going to face this (conflict) in our organization, Katz said. “It shows the power of individuals who demand clarity in their organizations and leaders.”

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