Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

The #MeToo Movement, Time's Up, and the Law

Movements like #MeToo and Time's Up have evolved. In the case of #MeToo, people worked together to bring sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and rape culture to the forefront of our collective attention. The goal is to do better as a society and end this abhorrent behavior. By encouraging survivors to come forward, these movements end the silence. Silence is, of course, the main element that allows sexual abuse to perpetuate.

These movements have given survivors a forum to discuss their experiences. They have also encouraged a more thoughtful society.

While the #MeToo Movement and Time's Up have had a strong social impact, this article focuses on their effect on the legal system.

The #MeToo Movement and Time's Up: Overview

Although the term began in 2006, the #MeToo movement became popular in 2017. Several female Hollywood celebrities accused producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault. Since then, victims of sexual harassment shared their experiences on social media.

The #MeToo movement deals specifically with sexual violence and harassment. It focuses on the healing and survivorship of those who've experienced sexual abuse.

Time's Up is a separate movement with specific goals and is an "action" step for #MeToo. The Time's Up movement aims to establish safety and equity in the workplace. The goal is to change policies and bring lawsuits to hold perpetrators accountable.

Activists created the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund to fund their goalsThis fund provides financial support and legal protections to victims who fight sexual misconduct in court.

Highlighting Legal Issues

The #MeToo movement has forced critical conversations while highlighting legal issues. One key issue is how the judicial system should handle older claims of abuse where evidence is lacking or where there are spoliation issues.

The movement has also shown that there are a variety of forums to secure justice outside of the criminal justice system, especially when it comes to older claims. This has raised questions about the role of due process in those venues.

Criminal and Civil Courts

Most states require prosecutors to file criminal charges against a suspect within a specified period of time. This timeframe is the statute of limitations intended to promote timely prosecutions. But these time limits prevent victims from seeking justice for older claims.

For example, despite 60 women accusing Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct, he was only prosecuted for sexually assaulting one. This was because it was the only claim that fell within the statute of limitations.

The #MeToo movement has also highlighted the ability of survivors to use civil courts to raise their claims of sexual abuse. While there are statutes of limitations, the standard of proof is the preponderance of the evidence. This standard is easier to meet than the standard required in criminal cases. Civil cases can also expose liability and force changes within organizations.

Media and Social Media Outlets

Beyond the judicial system, the #MeToo movement has shown that raising allegations via media can bring attention to claims. Sometimes, this will force offenders to step down from their positions or face termination.

Filing a civil suit after your employer has done an investigation can help you. The investigation often results in collection of evidence, strengthening your case if you choose to file a civil suit later.

Due Process Issues

Many question whether those accused are getting due process, even when allegations stem from outside the court.

Note the difference between due process as it applies to court cases and due process in the broader context of society. In criminal cases, the U.S. Constitution guarantees due process. This ensures that specific standards and procedures happen before a judge sentences a defendant. Criminal defendants have fundamental rights, such as a speedy trial or trial by jury.

Due process in society or the workplace is not the same. It's a norm governed by ideas promoted in social standards and employment policies. The Constitution does not provide the right to due process in this setting. This type of due process comes from unwritten concepts of fairness that usually refer to the ability of both sides to address allegations.

While these notions are not formal requirements, civil remedies are in place to help address false allegations. This includes defamation and wrongful termination lawsuits.

The #MeToo Movement's Impact on the Law

The #MeToo movement has highlighted the prevalence of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment. Besides sparking litigation in the courts, it's also affected state laws. Since 2017, 15 states passed new laws to protect against sexual harassment.

Lawmakers in Washington and California created amendments to existing laws to restrict the use of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) to cover up sexual harassment and abuse. Under California law, only plaintiffs in sexual harassment or assault cases can request NDAs. Those accused of misconduct cannot demand NDAs from employees.

Washington's new laws, passed in 2018, prohibit employers from requiring people to sign NDAs as a condition of employment. The laws also ensure employment contracts and arbitration agreements protect workers. These contracts must include the right to file sexual harassment or assault complaints. If not, the contract is void.

New York, California, and Illinois have changed their laws as well. These states created new laws that include mandatory sexual harassment prevention training. Although training requirements differ depending on the state, the goal remains the same.

The #MeToo movement has also pushed states to look at their backlogs of rape kits. Some states now mandate rape kits and provide increased funding to clear their backlogs. Some states have reconsidered their statutes of limitations when prosecuting sex crimes. They have also extended or lifted their statutes of limitations to file civil suits against sexual abusers. For example, see California Assembly Bill 1619. Adult sexual assault victims have up to 10 years to file a civil lawsuit against an offender.

The #MeToo Law: A New Sexual Harassment Act

President Joe Biden signed the #MeToo bill into law in 2022, ending forced arbitration of sexual assault and harassment claims. Arbitration is also known as alternative dispute resolution. Several news sources said the bill had bipartisan support in a typically divided Congress. This allowed the Senate bill to pass by unanimous consent.

How Does the #MeToo Movement and the Law Affect You? Ask an Employment Law Attorney

The #MeToo movement has exposed the extent of sexual abuse in the workplace and beyond while forcing legal system changes. A lawyer familiar with state and federal laws, sexual harassment cases, and hostile work environments can see if the #MeToo movement affects you.

Perhaps you've experienced workplace sexual harassment or sex discrimination or have other sexual harassment claims. Before contacting your human resources department or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), consider speaking with an experienced sexual harassment lawyer.

A local lawyer passionate about victim advocacy and anti-discrimination laws will not only know harassment laws in your jurisdiction but will also be able to provide personalized legal advice.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options