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“In each industry, harassment had it’s own particular sociology. In restaurants, liquor was omnipresent at the workplace, eroding judgment and loosening inhibitions, and managers were often loath to confront customers who got out of line. Silicone Valley was filled with young men who got rich overnight and felt accountable to no one. In shipyards, construction sites, and other traditionally male workplaces, men sometimes tried to drive out women by putting them in physical danger.

The journalists had come to the project knowing the basics about sexual harassment. Since the 1960’s a body of law had emerged to protect people from unwanted advances in the workplace. Sexual harassment was not a criminal offense, unless it involved rape or assault, but it was a violation of federal civil rights laws. Everyone in the room knew the stories of Clarence Thomas and Bill Clinton. But now as the reporters combined what they were learning across industries, they were coming to a deeper realization: Some of the weapons intended to fight sexual harassment were actually enabling it.

Emily Steel had the first lead from her work on Fox and O’Reilly. It was common knowledge that many sexual harassment cases settled out of court, and she and Michael S. Schmidt had already revealed that O’Reilly and Fox has relied on settlements that imposed confidentiality clauses, essentially paying victims to keep quiet.  But the specific terms of the agreements were crying out for further investigation. From what Steel was learning, the language of the deals made them look less like aboveboard legal transactions and more like cover-ups. The agreements included one restrictive clause after another. The women were obliged to turn over all their evidence- audio recordings, diaries, emails, backup files, any other shred of proof- to O’ Reilly and his lawyers

That summer, as Steel continued to look into O’Reilly, she also had a broader question: Were these clauses even legal? Were women across the country signing documents like these everyday, often unbeknownst to almost anyone? And were sexual harassment lawyers actually tackling the problem they purported to fight or pumping out settlements for profit?”

This became part of the assignment to expose deeper roots of the mistreatment of women. A Must Read!

 

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