Time’s Up Head Tina Tchen Staying Put Amid Escalating Controversies

Tina TChen Times Up

After a show of support from key players in the organization Monday, Tina Tchen, the embattled president and CEO of Time’s Up Now and the Time’s Up Foundation, will remain in her position, Variety has learned.

An emergency meeting was called Monday morning after a series of missteps by Time’s Up compromised the group, enumerated by a New York Times story on Sunday. Despite these mistakes and an open letter from sexual assault survivors stating the organization has failed them, Tchen continues to have the board’s support.

A spokesperson confirms to Variety that Tchen has no plans to resign, and says that support has been flowing in for the CEO — who held several jobs in the Obama White House, and was Michelle Obama’s chief of staff — both internally and by many individuals outside of the organization.

Time’s Up is actively in the process of interviewing consulting firms that will facilitate an internal assessment of the organization. A firm could be hired as soon as this week, a person familiar with those meetings says.

“There are survivors in leadership, on our staff and in our community, representing different experiences and viewpoints, who are actively engaged in the conversation about how to best move forward,” Tchen told Variety exclusively on Monday, following the internal meeting. “We are grateful for their leadership in helping us prepare to move forward in a way that addresses the harm and centers the needs and leadership of the survivor communities we seek to serve. We know we haven’t done the best job of this in the past, but we are committed to ensuring that our process and the work that emerges from it is informed by survivors at every step.”

The current crisis at Time’s Up has built over the past weeks, as reports revealed how close the group was to New York’s disgraced governor Andrew Cuomo, who stepped down after a bombshell investigation by the New York Attorney General found the politician, a Hollywood favorite, had sexually harassed 11 women.

Roberta Kaplan, a Time’s Up founder, resigned from the organization earlier this month after it was revealed that Kaplan’s law firm represents Melissa DeRosa, a former Cuomo aide who helped draft a letter smearing one of his accusers. The New York Times story reported that Kaplan had also provided lawyers’ names to Cuomo, and that she had also talked with DeRosa about what Time’s Up’s response was going to be to the sexual harassment scandal, and shared its statement with her.

On Monday, Tchen apologized to board members and said there have been missteps within the organization over the past few years, according to a person who was present at the internal Zoom meeting. An insider shared that Tchen told meeting participants she never had any direct communication with Cuomo, and was not aware that Kaplan’s involvement in the situation would be disparaging to women; she said she would have never given feedback, if that were the case, and she admitted that impact of her not paying close enough attention.

Tchen then provided an overview of next steps for the organization with a forward-looking tone, told board members that she believes in the organization’s mission and spoke about the positive work that Time’s Up has done. A person present at the meeting tells Variety that many questions were asked of Tchen, and people were receptive to her responses about the organization’s future. The tenor of the call was said to be supportive of her, given how young Time’s Up is as an institution.

There’s also a sense within the group that if someone of Tchen’s stature were to step down or be forced out, the entire organization would be in jeopardy.

“The best stuff Time’s Up does nobody knows about,” one early Time’s Up member told Variety Monday. The good work that’s been done by the group isn’t heralded, the member said, but the mistakes make page one.

But Tchen knows, the member said, that leadership has made serious mistakes that have jeopardized Time’s Up. “You can only play an inside game as long as it’s not harming the people for which the organization was formed.”

Caitlin Dulany, one of the most outspoken Harvey Weinstein accusers, tells Variety that although Time’s Up is embroiled in controversy, she still stands behind Tchen and “wholeheartedly supports” her continuing in her leadership role.

“There is no question that Time’s Up has lost its way, which just hurts my heart because the intention to push back against the patriarchy, to support survivors and to fight for equity still remains,” Dulany says.

“I am optimistic that Time’s Up will take this opportunity to correct itself, with input from all of us: survivors, critics, and the community at large,” Dulany adds. “It’s so important not to give up on an organization that has done a lot of good work around justice, accountability and equity for women and survivors in a very short amount of time.”

Power players Shonda Rhimes and Katie McGrath are both supportive of Tchen, with Rhimes telling the New York Times in a statement: “The fact that Time’s Up has become viewed as a receptacle for and the focus of men trying to cover up their obscene behaviors is exhausting to me. Saving men, especially predatory men, is not on Time’s Up agenda.”

But following the Attorney General’s investigation of Cuomo, a group of survivors penned an open letter to the Time’s Up Board of Directors, stating that the organization has failed them.

“Time’s Up and Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund were built to advocate for those who make the bold decision to hold our abusers accountable. But it seems that vision was lost and leadership drifted from who mattered most: survivors and victims,” the open letter stated.

One of the women who signed the open letter is Alison Turkos, a survivor and advocate for victims, who is currently suing Lyft, after she reported being kidnapped and raped by her driver employed by the ride-share app. Turkos has been public in her staunch calls against Time’s Up, and she does not consider the organization, or Tchen, to be prioritizing survivors of sexual assault.

Turkos tells Variety she believes Tchen should be held accountable for Time’s Up’s involvement in the Cuomo allegations, and would like to see an in-depth investigation of Time’s Up as a whole.

“From the beginning, Time’s Up was always centering the wants, needs and desires of celebrities and those in power,” Turkos says. “Now is a true opportunity for the organization and its leadership to decide if they want to do what’s right or what’s easy.”

Turkos hopes that all survivors, no matter how critical of the organization, will be viewed as leaders of the movement who are collaborative partners in the community. “Tina and the board are not the only people who have power here,” Turkos says. “Look at what the collective power of survivors has accomplished in the last two weeks since our letter was published.”

In the aftermath of Kaplan’s resignation and the controversy swirling around Tchen, Time’s Up co-founder Nina Shaw will take on more responsibility within the organization, and has stepped in to replace Kaplan as interim board chair. She will work directly with the consultant on mapping out next steps for the organization. The consulting firm will provide guidance for accountability and necessary culture-shift strategies needed for Time’s Up to move forward and help work through its problems.

Tchen was recruited to run Time’s Up in October 2019. She is not the first leader of the organization to face controversy: Lisa Borders, the inaugural CEO of Time’s Up, stepped down in February 2019, after her son was accused of sexual abuse.

Time’s Up was founded in January 2018, after investigations into Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times and the New Yorker caused a sea change in Hollywood around sexual assault and harassment, which extended into exposing predators in a number of industries.

Gene Maddaus and Matt Donnelly contributed to this report.