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Mira Sorvino and others put spotlight on #MeToo laws

Mira Sorvino and others put spotlight on #MeToo laws
Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino was one of the first to come forward with allegations of abuse against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. She celebrated the passage of California laws to combat workplace sexual abuse. (Amy Sussman/Invision/Associated Press)

A year after sexual assault and harassment accusations first broke against Harvey Weinstein, fueling the #MeToo movement, a group of lawmakers and activists, including the actresses Mira Sorvino and Rosanna Arquette, praised a new suite of laws that they said would help combat workplace sexual abuse in California.

“We have turned this #MeToo revolution into a policy revolution,” said Noreen Farrell, Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates, at a news conference in North Hollywood. The nonprofit supports women and girls at work and school.

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Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October, the laws target prevention as well as transparency and accountability, while closing legal loopholes that have long shielded predatory behavior.

Altogether, the laws bar companies from requiring workers to agree to nondisparagement clauses as a condition of employment or in exchange for a raise or a bonus; ban settlement provisions that prevent testimony about criminal conduct or sexual harassment in legal proceedings; prohibit nondisclosure stipulations in settlements involving sexual misconduct; and require publicly held companies to have at least one female board member.

Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), called the laws, most of which go into effect on Jan. 1, the “most comprehensive policies in the nation, bar none,” adding that California is “setting the gold standard,” when it comes to greater protections against sexual harassment.

“When I and these wonderful ladies came out against men of power who abused that power I never knew where it was going to go,” said Sorvino, who last year was one of more than 80 women who leveled sexual assault and harassment allegations against Weinstein. “But because I have been an activist for many years, I’ve come to feel that awareness without action is hollow.”

In Manhattan Criminal Court, just hours before the news conference, Justice James Burke ruled that a criminal sexual assault case against Weinstein will go forward.

Giving the new laws the hashtag #Takethelead,the group said it would like to see them replicated across all states and at the federal level.

“These are comprehensive legal reforms for seeking justice and meaningful cultural change in the workplace without fear of reprisal or retaliation,” said State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

After actress Chantal Cousineau recounted her experiences of being harassed by director James Toback in the The Times last year, nearly 400 women came forward to accuse the director of similar behavior. Cousineau, who also testified before the Assembly in support of the bills, called Thursday a “big day” and their signage into law a stand for equality, dignity and justice for all.”

While celebrating the progress made, the lawmakers however, also said there was still much work to be done.

For instance, in October, Brown struck down a handful of bills that advocates believe would have gone further in strengthening workplace abuse protections. They included extending the statute of limitations on filing a complaint, a ban on forced arbitration and a bill that would require companies with 50 or more employees to keep records of sexual harassment complaints for five years and another that would prohibit employers from retaliating against a workers.

Both the lawmakers and advocates said they will continue to push those bills onto incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

“We’ve only just begun the battle,” said Sen. Jackson “And we will win.”

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