Oct 28, 2022
The #MeToo Movement was founded in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, officially becoming a worldwide phenomenon in the fall of 2017. Five years into the #MeToo Movement, justice being obtained by sexual assault survivors – even when victimized by powerful men – is becoming more commonplace.
Ronan Farrow’s 2017 investigative report for the New Yorker which helped expose countless allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein led to the disgraced producer receiving a 23-year prison sentence for rape and sexual abuse in 2020. This week, Weinstein’s Los Angeles trial on additional rape charges began, with multiple women providing testimony describing how they were “terrified” of him during in-person encounters, according to the Los Angeles Times.
One survivor told prosecutors, “I was scared that if I didn’t play nice, something could happen in the room or out of the room because of his power in the industry,” Deputy District Attorney Paul Thompson said in his opening statement.
While more and more sexual assault survivors are coming forward to report their perpetrators, a separate Los Angeles Times’ report examined how a recent California ruling lifting the “the veil of confidentiality around workplace investigations at the state Capitol” highlights the “conflict between confidentiality and due process rights in workplace investigations” in the #MeToo era.
In 2020, a judge tentatively ruled that former California Assemblyman Matt Dababneh had a right to know the identities of the 52 witnesses who had participated in a state Assembly investigation two years earlier into a sexual misconduct allegation against him, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“This is the reason why many survivors don’t come forward,” Carrie McFadden, a staffer for a California congressman, told the L.A. Times. McFadden reportedly thought she had spoken with investigators confidentially in February 2018 about her allegation that Dababneh offered her a raise to convince a college student to sleep with him, but the court’s ruling complicated the issue.
According to the report by the Times, the investigation into Dababneh was extensive, ultimately resulting in a substantiated claim from a lobbyist – Pam Lopez – that he followed her “into a bathroom, masturbated in front of her, and urged her to touch him.”
“The investigation substantiated Lopez’s claim in 2018. Dababneh filed a lawsuit against the Assembly arguing that the lower house violated his due process rights by depriving him ‘of an opportunity to be heard and respond at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner’ during the course of the investigation,” the Times said.
After obtaining documents through a public records request, the Times confirmed that the ex-assembly member agreed to drop the lawsuit as part of a negotiated settlement more than a year later. The lawsuit was only dropped, however, in exchange for a list of witnesses, according to the Times.
John Casey, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, told the Times that while “the Legislature fought tooth and nail to keep all of this stuff confidential,” providing the list ended the litigation and protected witnesses from further harm.
“Settling the lawsuit with only the witness list ended the case and the discovery process,” Casey said. “Without active litigation, the plaintiff’s lawyers lost the authority to subpoena and forcefully depose all the investigation witnesses in this case.”
Dababneh reportedly declined to comment to the Times through a spokesperson. Elected to the Assembly in 2013, Dababneh resigned just weeks later. Although five women publicly accused him in 2017 of sexually inappropriate behavior going back years before and then during his tenure in the Legislature, Dababneh never faced criminal charges for the allegations against him, the Los Angeles Times confirmed.
The Los Angeles Times spoke with Merrick Rossein, a professor of law at the City University of New York School of Law and an expert in workplace conduct policies, regarding the unusual ruling in the California Capitol sexual misconduct case involving Assemblyman Matt Dababneh. Rossein expressed a need for investigations to constantly balance “due process rights and protecting witnesses’ confidentiality.”
“Due process is very important. So is trying to address the real problems of women afraid of coming forward, and knowing that we still have a lot of sexual harassment going on in all workplaces,” Rossein said, warning that retaliation is a serious concern in investigations, according to the Times.
The Times also spoke with Wendy Musell, an expert witness who provided testimony in a 2018 legislative hearing about reforming the statehouse’s harassment and discrimination policies.
Musell said the ruling is “absolutely going to have a chilling effect.”
“They didn’t want to be in that position in the first place,” Musell told the Times regarding the accusers. “And then to learn at the end of the day that the person that you had the courage to come out and complain about is going to get a list of you and everybody else who provided statements, that is absolutely going to discourage people from coming forward.”
“Their research, supported by the Tobin Center for Economic Policy, found that Me Too increased overall reporting of sex crimes by 14%, with about a 7% increase in the US,” Vox.com reported.
According to Vox, data from the Yale study also confirmed that:
“… the US, the effects of Me Too appeared to cut across racial and socioeconomic lines – a significant find, especially since media coverage often focused on reports by relatively high-profile white women, leading to concerns that the movement’s growing prominence would have minimal impact on the lives of women of color.”
California AB 2777 was signed into law last month by Governor Newsom. Known as the ‘Sexual Abuse Cover Up Accountability Act,’ AB 2777 offers adult survivors of sexual assault, abuse, and misconduct the opportunity to secure justice and financial compensation via civil lawsuits.
“Under AB 2777, any claim seeking to recover damages suffered as a result of a sexual assault or other inappropriate conduct, communication, or activity of a sexual nature may now be filed between January 1, 2023 and December 31, 2026,” according to the bill’s language.
Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) Los Angeles sexual assault attorneys are currently accepting claims on behalf of adult survivors under AB 2777. To speak with a lawyer about your case, contact us for a free consultation at 818-322-4056.
To learn more about California Assembly Bill 2777 (AB 2777), please take a look at our recent blog.
DLG’s sexual assault attorneys have the proven results you need when pursuing a civil claim against a predator:
Reach out to a member of our team today to discuss your case confidentially and without any obligation. Coming forward to file a claim in an effort to secure justice for a past sexual assault can be an empowering experience for survivors, and DLG is here to assist and support you every step of the way.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.