Roberta Kaplan, a prominent lawyer specializing in LGBTQ rights and women’s issues, has resigned as co-chair of the board of Time’s Up, an organization intended to combat sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination in the workplace, following allegations that she helped New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) try to discredit one of the women accusing him of sexual harassment.
“Recent events have made it clear that even our apparent allies in the fight to advance women can turn out to be abusers,” Kaplan wrote in her resignation letter to Nina Shaw, the vice chair of the Time’s Up board of directors. She also said, that, due to her legal obligations — including not violating her clients’ confidentiality — she could no longer remain in her role at the organization.
Kaplan is probably best known for her role as the lead attorney for Edie Windsor, a lesbian widow who successfully sued the federal government over its refusal to acknowledge same-sex marriages as valid, resulting in the overturn of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. Four years ago, she helped found Time’s Up and its legal defense fund, with the purpose of supporting survivors of sexual harassment and assault.
But a report released last week by New York State Attorney General Letitia James (D) found that the governor and his associates had unlawfully retaliated against former staffer Lindsey Boylan, one of 11 women accusing Cuomo of wrongdoing.
According to that report, Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa, a client of Kaplan’s, consulted the prominent attorney about a document drafter by Cuomo, intended to be published as a letter to the editor or a commentary piece, rebutting Boylan’s allegations and undermining her credibility.
Kaplan and another Time’s Up leader (identified in other outlets as the organization’s president and CEO Tina Tchen) reportedly told DeRosa that the document would be fine to publish, with some changes. Ultimately, the piece was not published, but was shared with some media outlets by another aide.
Neither Kaplan nor Tchen were interviewed by investigators with the attorney general’s office, reports The New York Times.
The report from James’s office also fingered Alphonso David, the president of the national LGBTQ group the Human Rights Campaign and a former in-house counsel to Cuomo, for his alleged involvement in an effort to discredit Boylan by handing over her personnel file to aides who later leaked it to the media. David has denied any wrongdoing, and HRC has launched a probe to conduct a review of David’s actions.
Kaplan’s resignation comes after nearly 50 survivors of sexual harassment and assault signed onto a letter, published on the internet site Medium on Monday, accusing Time’s Up of “failing all survivors” and accusing the organization of having “abandoned the very people it was supposed to champion.”
The survivor’s letter accused Kaplan and Tchen of “weaponiz[ing] their knowledge of survivors’ experiences to help Governor Cuomo and his office retaliate against at least one of nearly a dozen women who were courageous in speaking up about the myriad of ways he abused his power and violated their bodies in the workplace.” The letter also alleges that the leaders of Time’s Up have continued “to align themselves with abusers at the expense of survivors.”
“Time’s Up has prioritized its proximity to power over mission. And now that Time’s Up’s board members’ and staff’s actions have come to light, you cannot rewrite history by signing open letters to the New York State Senate and Assembly calling on them to remove Governor Cuomo from office when you actively worked to further his defense behind closed doors,” the letter reads.
“Instead of helping survivors remain at the center of our own stories, we find out in the press that you were consulted by abusers to aid them in victim-blaming and undermining our ability to come forward,” the letter accusing Time’s Up leaders of “enabling abuse” reads. “This behavior harms all survivors. This behavior discourages survivors from seeking support and speaking out and causes ripples of distrust felt throughout our movement. This behavior has us questioning who we can truly trust. Whether or not you agreed to help, perpetrators of harm felt comfortable reaching out to you for crisis management. That is a problem.”
The letter also attacked Kaplan, in her professional capacity, for choosing to represent Goldman Sachs in a workplace sexual harassment case.
“While the National Women’s Law Center maintains that, ‘Ms. Kaplan’s decision to represent Goldman Sachs in the matter at hand was made in her personal capacity, and with no involvement by the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund,’ we can’t help but feel disheartened that once again a Time’s Up board member is playing both sides. Our lives are not a game. Our experiences of abuse are not research for your next big case. Time’s Up cannot be funded by and seek the support of corporations accused of harboring perpetrators of harm. Time’s Up cannot call for shining a light on sexual harassment and justice while working with our abusers in the shadows.”
The survivors called on the organization to institute several reforms, including: removing any board members and staffers who have “supported perpetrators of harm,” launching a third-party investigation into the involvement of board members with said perpetrators, and severing any ties with individuals or companies who have been accused of accused of sexual harassment, assault, or misconduct.
Tchen and the Time’s Up board released a statement calling Kaplan’s decision to resign the “right and appropriate thing to do,” and vowing to be more transparent and adopt “a more inclusive process to engage the broader survivor community.”
Kaplan told the Times that her decision to resign marks “a very sad day.”
“I will so miss time spent with this board and our sisterhood,” she wrote in an email. “Going forward, I hope they will be able to stick together and continue this important work.”
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