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Let Them Speak! Legal Loopholes That Silence Sexual Harassment Victims Must Go (Guest Column)

It shouldn’t be news to anyone that a glass ceiling exists for women in the music industry. Like most others, the music business was built on a male-dominated culture, and aspects of that outdated culture continue to make it exceedingly difficult for women to succeed today. Among the worst of these are the legal safeguards many men are able to use to protect themselves from being exposed for their misogynistic and deplorable behavior.

In the wake of the recent Harvey Weinstein revelations, many women in entertainment have begun to find the courage to speak out about the vile behavior they endure from their male superiors and peers, which remains a substantial problem in the music industry. Trust me, I know: Two years ago I was a victim of sexual harassment.

At a widely-attended, multi-day industry event a prominent music-industry figure made aggressive sexual advances towards me. For hours, during a semi-formal sit-down dinner, this man was rubbing my legs under our table (despite my repeated demands to stop), lick my neck in front of other guests and put his hands underneath my jacket. Horrified, I informed the organizers of his actions, but because of his stature they were not inclined to support me in having him removed from the event. His behavior grew so bad that one of my clients, also in attendance, felt compelled to serve as my bodyguard. I left the event on the second day, before it was even halfway over, because I couldn’t stand to be in that man’s presence any longer.

To be clear: I am a strong-willed and successful attorney who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. If these types of men, some of whom even don’t seem aware that their behavior is completely unacceptable, aren’t afraid of someone like me, they’re probably not afraid of anyone.

And why would they be? Many of them, especially high-powered men of wealth and influence, are protected from any disclosure of their inappropriate actions: A legal loophole exists that can prevent victims from speaking out. As has been widely reported recently with employees of the Weinstein Company, women are often pressured into signing employment agreements settlement deals that include non-disclosure and confidentiality paragraphs prohibiting them from revealing any business-related information — including, among other things, any acts of sexual harassment.

That’s right: Women — and men — are being asked to sign away their ability to speak out against sexual aggressors, even within their own business.  And sometimes, companies go as far as to allow their top executives to engage in sexual harassment without fear of being fired, so long as they are willing to reimburse the company for any legal expenses and pay a fine, as was most recently reported to be the case in Harvey Weinstein’s own employment agreement with the Weinstein Company.

What disgusts me the most are the lawyers that use this kind of language to facilitate the cover-up of harassment and other labor violations — in fact, it’s not just disgusting, it’s unethical. The California Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3-700 states that a lawyer may not continue to represent a client if he or she knows or should know that the client is pursuing a strategy “without probable cause and for the purpose of harassing or maliciously injuring any person.” Knowingly helping a client to silence the voices of mistreated women is malicious in every sense of the word and injurious to every woman who may follow in their place.

It’s hard enough for a woman to speak up about sexual harassment without a provision legally disallowing her from doing so.

We cannot allow this practice to continue. Any attorney who purports to be an upstanding member of the bar is doing our profession a disservice every time they aid and abet a repeat-aggressor by drafting these restrictive and sometimes unethical employment agreements. Do us all a favor – just resign your bar card, now please.

Of course, I’m not speaking about all men here – I have the pleasure of working alongside many respectable men who would never dream of disrespecting any female. We may not be able to close the wage gap or balance the inequalities in upper management this year or even this decade, but we can make it just a little easier to fight this kind of behavior. Women will never attain the level of success they deserve if they’re constantly being harassed and degraded purely because of their gender.

Starting a conversation is the first step toward making a change, and women can’t do this if they’re barred from doing so. But before they can speak out, we have to stand up.

Dina LaPolt is an attorney who represents music creators, celebrities, and owners and controllers of intellectual property.​ She is founder of LaPolt Law and represents Steven Tyler, Britney Spears, Fifth Harmony, and deadmau5. 

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