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It’s time to shut down operations, transfer resources to legal funds

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Golden Globes carpet usually glitters with crystal-studded dresses in pastel hues, but in January 2018 things looked different: The ball gowns were black and the night’s main accessory was a pin that read “Time’s Up’. On stage, Oprah Winfrey brought guests to their feet with a warning to powerful abusers: “Their time is up!”

Five years later, Time’s Up – the now embattled anti-harassment organization that was founded with fanfare during the early days of the #MeToo reckoning against sexual misconduct – stops working, at least in its current form.

A year after committing to a “great reset” after a scandal over its leaders’ dealings with the then government. Andrew Cuomo amid allegations of sexual harassment, the group tells The Associated Press that Time’s Up is transferring remaining funds to the independently managed Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and shutting down other operations.

The decision, which CEO Gabrielle Sulzberger said will go into effect at the end of January, caps a tumultuous period for an organization that made a splashing public entrance on Jan. 1, 2018, with newspaper ads featuring an open letter signed by hundreds of prominent Hollywood movie stars, producers and agents.

Following the highly visible show of support days later at the Globes, donations large and small poured into a $24 million GoFundMe earmarked for the burgeoning Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. In the months that followed, the rest of Time’s Up formed, promising a cleanup of an industry rocked by the stunning allegations against mogul Harvey Weinstein.

In January 2023, Time’s Up looked very different after its own radical cleanup – fueled by a damaging internal report – with only a skeleton crew and three remaining board members. The remaining funds are now about $1.7 million, Sulzberger said; the millions of early donations already went to the legal fund.

“It was not an easy decision, but the board unanimously agreed that it is the right decision and the most impactful way forward,” Sulzberger told the AP.

She and the other board members – Colleen DeCourcy and Ashley Judd, the actor and one of the most powerful early Weinstein accusers – will resign as Time’s Up Now and the Time’s Up Foundation, the two groups that formed what is commonly known as Time’s Up, close.

“Quite simply, the Legal Defense Fund really reflects who we were, not just at its founding, but really at our core,” Sulzberger said. “We actually just decided that at the end of the day we had to go back to our roots. (The fund) was the first initiative we founded and funded, and remains at the heart of everything we stood for.”

The fund is administered by the National Women’s Law Center in Washington and provides legal and administrative assistance to employees, most of whom identify as low-income people and 40% as people of color. Time’s Up Now and the Time’s Up Foundation had focused on policy and advocacy.

Uma Iyer, vice president of marketing and communications at the legal center, says the fund has helped connect more than 4,700 employees with legal services, and funded or pledged funding for 350 cases out of just over 500 who applied .

Labor and civil rights attorney Debra Katz, long one of the nation’s most prominent attorneys dealing with sexual harassment cases, called the fund a critical resource for survivors and their advocates.

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“They understand these issues and they’ve always been totally survivor-focused and respectful of survivors,” Katz said of the National Women’s Law Center, with which she’s worked for decades.

But Katz, representing chief Cuomo prosecutor Charlotte Bennett, was highly critical of the Time’s Up organization, particularly former CEO Tina Tchen and former board chair Roberta Kaplan’s dealings with the Cuomo administration. Both resigned in August 2021 amid uproar over revelations they gave advice after Cuomo was accused of wrongdoing and that Tchen initially discouraged other Time’s Up leaders from commenting publicly on accusations made by prosecutor Lindsey Boylan.

“You can’t backchannel to companies and entities and think you were giving strategic advice if you’re also suing those entities for gross misconduct,” Katz said. ‘That’s what they were trying to do. It just undermines trust with the survivors.”

Current Time’s Up leaders are keen to point out that the organization has played a major role in pushing for legislation that increases worker protections, including extending the statute of limitations for rape in 15 states. and working to achieve pay equality in women’s football. The group also worked on issues involving working families in COVID-19, such as emergency leave due to illness.

“I have two adult daughters and the kind of issues I faced in the workplace as a young woman make me feel like Time’s Up made a huge difference in moving that needle,” said Sulzberger.

Despite its early fundraising success, Time’s Up was plagued with problems from the start, often accused of being too attuned to Hollywood’s rich and powerful — a theme of the early #MeToo movement in general. The group also had leadership problems. In February 2019, CEO Lisa Borders resigned because of allegations of sexual harassment against her son. Just over two years later came the departure of Tchen and Kaplan.

The organization announced its “reset” in November 2021 and released a report prepared by an outside consultant that listed numerous shortcomings. Among them: confusion about purpose and mission, ineffective communication internally and externally, the appearance of being politically partisan and too tied to Hollywood.

Part of the problem, the report said, was how quickly the organization grew, “like a jetliner to a missile overnight.”

The staff was reduced to a skeleton crew, and the few remaining board members listened to the group’s many stakeholders for a year before making a decision, according to Sulzberger.

Katz said it would be wrong to see the trials of Time’s Up — or any organization for that matter — as a sign of weakness for the general #MeToo movement. On the contrary, she said, it shows the resilience of the movement.

“As movements progress and mature, they go through phases. But at least this shows the strength of this movement, because victims of sexual assault came forward and said, ‘We’re not going to tolerate this (conflict) in our organization,’” Katz said. “It shows the power of individuals who demand clarity in their organizations and leaders.”