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Attorney: MeToo has changed conversation, prompted culture shift on sexual harassment

Attorney: MeToo has changed conversation, prompted culture shift on sexual harassment

reporter photo

NORTH HAVEN — Roughly 18 months since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, an area specialist in sexual harassment law said women should feel more compelled to come forward and challenge those who engage in wrongdoing.

“Women have autonomy, if we are in a position of some power, we should say ‘no,’” Patricia Reilly, a partner with Murtha Culina, told a gathering of area businesswomen Thursday. “There’s been a real cultural shift and I’m glad because I don’t want to go back to ‘Mad Men’ days. There are rules in place that make the workplace a much better place.”

Reilly, speaking at a networking event sponsored by the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce, told the audience that workplace sexual harassment in the hit AMC show would have been legal in the 1960s. In fact, she told them, it wasn’t until 1986 when the U.S. Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in its ruling in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.  

“This was the way it was for women,” Reilly, who works out of New Haven, said about sexual harassment prior to the ruling. “Your boss could get away with this and you had no recourse.”  

Reilly offers training to workplaces and defends companies against claims of harassment and discrimination. Since reports by the “

New York Times” and “New Yorker”

 on Weinstein brought national attention to the #MeToo movement, she said people are talking more about all forms of sexual assault and harassment.

“It’s not just limited to the workplace, it’s a broader use for women who talk about their experience,” Reilly said about the movement. 

Training has helped set workplace standards very high. Reilly said most supervisors get the notion that the quid pro quo threats of sex for employment are illegal, but the #MeToo movement has helped created an attitude shift on negative comments, jokes, touching and other things that can make others in the workplace feel uncomfortable. 

“After the #MeToo movement the pendulum has swung,” Reilly said. She also informed audience members of the need to file a complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities if they experience sexual harassment. 

She also talked about recent allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden. A handful of women have come forward recently accusing him of touching them, kissing them on the back of the head, or engaging in other conduct that they said made them feel uncomfortable, even if they didn’t perceive it to be sexual in nature.  

Reilly said she is a fan of Biden’s and called him a “warm guy.” She also said that the alleged actions were intrusive and would be considered sexual harassment had Biden and the accuser worked together. 

None of the accusers worked for or with Biden, but Reilly said someone advising Biden should have told him to stop. 

“You all know this guy,” Reilly said. “But let’s bring it back to the workplace. I don’t know why someone didn’t have a little chit chat with Joe and said ‘you really can’t do that.’ You need to be careful about your boundaries. But let’s keep in mind sniffing somebody’s head and kissing it is not rape.”

Twitter: @Cconnbiz

Sexual harassment policies 18 months after MeToo broke