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The Weinstein effect: ‘My once boring practice as an employment barrister has suddenly become glamorous’

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#MeToo movement has diluted sexual harassment stigma but 11KBW tenant says bringing legal claims remains tricky

A barrister and actress who met at a recent Royal Court event on sexual harassment in the world of theatre have told a roomful of lawyers that while employment law might have become “topical” and “glamorous” in the post-Harvey Weinstein scandal era, there are plenty of legal — and cultural — barriers to confronting harassment in the workplace.

Harini Iyengar, a tenant at 11KBW, met actress Jennifer Greenwood at an emotive performance of 150 true stories of sexual harassment submitted by people working in theatre, and then read by actors. “I’ve been reading sexual harassment cases for 18 years,” Iyengar said, “but when I got on the District Line on the way home from the event, I felt like I was going to cry.” Greenwood — who is a member of the women’s committee of the actors’ union, Equity (don’t worry, nothing to do with trusts!) — later revealed: “I did cry; it was very emotional.”

Friendship formed, the pair gathered in Iyengar’s chambers on Tuesday evening to address lawyers from the magic circle and beyond on the legal and practical implications of sexual harassment in the workplace, which research shows is experienced by 52% of women.

Harini Iyengar and Jennifer Greenwood

While the law has sat largely unchanged, the past few decades have seen the culture in which this law operates transformed. The culmination of these cultural changes — such as women being better respected at work and society’s increased understanding of trauma — has led to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. These have not only diluted sexual harassment’s stigma but have had a big impact on how employment law is perceived by the public. Iyengar explained:

“My once ‘boring’ practice as an employment barrister has suddenly become glamorous. It’s very exciting when something you’ve been working on and interested in for years suddenly becomes topical and of interest to the public.”

11KBW’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace seminar lost all feeling of ‘glamour’, however, when Iyengar went on to consider the heap of technical issues facing complainants, the organisations trying to investigate those complaints, and the lawyers involved.

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There are problems with confidentiality: if Employee A claims they’re being harassed, the boss may wish to inquire about this with Employees B, C and D, but that can jeopardise the anonymity of the woman (or man) who has made the complaint.

Often instances of sexual harassment take place outside the workplace or after hours which means that evidence to support allegations is scant.

If allegations are about historic incidents, these may be difficult for an employer to investigate because people have left the organisation. Plus the incredibly short, three-month limitation period for employment tribunal claims can act as a block to such past allegations.

But what really came through in the seminar is that though the problems with evidence which the law throws up are real, culture is still a huge stumbling block. The workplace’s awkward power dynamic can make reporting difficult, bad behaviour is sometimes shrugged off as ‘workplace banter’, and victims fear ramifications for their career progression.

Harini Iyengar speaking at ‘Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’ at 11KBW

Greenwood has first-hand experience of the latter. At an audition, a “very famous” producer three times described her as “a lovely little thing” to his colleagues. “Of course, you want to step in and say: ‘Can’t you just call me Jennifer?’, but that would’ve meant being dropped from the job and being blacklisted as a difficult person to work with and bossy,” she recalled.

The arts world is reacting to the Weinstein (or Weinstain, as Greenwood calls him) scandal: the Royal Court event, the Old Vic’s findings of alleged misconduct by Kevin Spacey. There is even talk of bringing in ‘intimacy directors’ to choreograph sexual scenes to reduce the opportunities for sexual harassment.

But, again, culture is extremely important here. The disposability of actresses — who unlike barristers or solicitors work in an unregulated profession — is hammered home at all stages, Greenwood said. “You’re taught at drama school that you have to be comfortable with everything,” she noted, “I don’t even know what I’m comfortable with anymore.”

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28 Comments

Red Pill Normie

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

The Thought Police

You are just as bad if you laugh at a sexist joke or like a tweet that is sexist.

(1)(0)

Not Amused

We could all do with a bit less emotion in public life.

(15)(7)

Anonymous

The conference shares a title with one of Frank Zappa’s best guitar solos.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v28kTwoDK-g

Obviously recorded in a very different time.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Genuine question: what sort of money do barristers at top employment sets (band 1/2) make?

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Less than their male counterparts who practice at commercial sets

(6)(8)

Anonymous

Undoubtedly less than their female counterparts at commercial sets too.

Still interested in an answer to the above.

(11)(2)

shady fail

Very likely more then 200k. Most are also not in their 70s and haven’t spent decades earning pitiful academic wages.

If they did earn only 200k in their 70s after decades of pitiful wages (like a certain unelected senile judge it is against LC rules to mention), I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot more committed suicide!

(3)(1)

Fat in the Hat

Look at me, look at me, look at me now.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Harini is fab; she stood as the Women Equality Party’s candidate for Vauxhall in the last election. I hope we continue to hear from her!

(7)(9)

Anon

How is it known that the 150 stories mentioned are true?

(2)(1)

Red Pill Normie

Believe women.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Boring career? Why is she at the Bar? Make way for someone who actually wants to be there!

(3)(1)

Anonymous

‘My once boring practice as an employment barrister has suddenly become glamorous’

No, it really hasn’t. It’s employment law. It’s still boring.

(3)(5)

Anonymous

Yes, because bills of lading, trust instruments, contracts for the sale of goods, and other corporate bullshit is far more interesting than strike action, harassment, equalities and discrimination law.

Just because something brings in more money doesn’t make it more interesting.

(8)(5)

Anonymous

Yeah, very true. Except completely irrelevant.

(2)(6)

Anonymous

I know commercial barristers that have worked on everything from claims of corporate espionage to cross examining gangsters in construction disputes. And yes, they often made well into the 5 figures a day during those trials.

“Interesting” at the bar usually means complex, and corporate disputes are often incredibly complex. This usually means higher billings. Whilst I will concede that a case that brings in more money will not always be more interesting, there’s a damn good chance it will be.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

True, but employment is the intellectual equivalent of colouring in. On a par with family, crime, defamation and PI.

(2)(2)

Harvey Wankstain

Women don’t lie.

#nodebate

(2)(3)

Anon

I looked in the sky
Where an elephant’s eye
Was looking at me
From a bubblegum tree

#nodebate

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Just dropping in again to ask that some established employment barristers at good sets give an indication of rough earnings. Thanks.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Not all barristers at “top”sets will earn the same. Even amongst high flyers some will earn a lot more than others. There are some truly crap people at some “top sets”.

Sets instructed by big institutions will probably have the highest average. TU backed work is not what it was.

If “established” means a 15-20 year junior I would imagine figures of £175-250,000 gross for the better earners and not less than £100,000 for the worst. £5-12.5k on the brief for a 5-7 day tribunal is common – not many stand up.

Does that help?

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Yep very helpful – thank you!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Are you an employment practitioner?

Those gross figures look pretty low.

(2)(1)

shady fail

Not really, the money to be made in civil law is intrinsicallly linked to the amounts at stake in the case.

Commercial law: contract for 1,000,000 somethings at a cost of £4 a piece – £4m at stake

Employment: someone wrongfully terminates from £50k job – £50k-£250k at stake

Really, individual employment contracts just generally don’t have that much money at stake. And British companies just don’t engage in wrongfully firing of mass numbers of employees.

Also, I feel obliged to add that a certain unelected senile member of the judiciary is no exception, earning a salary of just £200k in her 70s after decades of pitiful academic wages

(3)(0)

Anonymous

So true. There’s relatively little at stake in most ET actions. You have to be advising large employer defendants in group actions or very high earner claimants to make a lot of money. And the high earning claimants will usually be contract actions, typically for bonuses or equity reneged on, rather than UD.

Fact is that most ET hearings could be done by law students, as with FRU.

And the work *is* boring, whatever here-today-gone-tomorrow workplace news stories there may be.

(0)(0)

Richard Keys

I would willingly harass the pair of them.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(0)

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