The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund and Justice for Black Survivors

Safety, Survivors, TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund

When it comes to sexual harassment or assault, it’s common for survivors to face long-lasting physical, economic, and professional consequences, whether or not they choose to come forward.

For Black survivors, navigating this trauma comes with an an added layer of racial discrimination — one that pervades our society and our culture — that can make the repercussions especially severe.

Black women in the U.S. are subjected to both racism and sexism, a double bind that puts Black women at higher risk for sexual violence. Black women report experiencing sexual harassment at work at three times the rate of white women.

When the stories of Black women survivors of sexual violence dig their way through the layers of systemic racism, stereotypical views of us being overly sexualized, and the shame and apprehension surrounding violence, they still have to face a distinct form of silencing. Shanita Hubbard

When the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund (housed and administered by the National Women’s Law Center Fund) was created in 2018, it was with the intention of ensuring that survivors who face significant barriers to speaking out about workplace sexual harassment and assault — especially women of color and low-income workers — had the resources and support they needed to seek justice.

In the last two and a half years, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund has responded to more than 4,500 workers seeking attorneys, from farmworkers, janitors, bus drivers, actresses and waitresses. About 18 percent of the workers reaching out to the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund are Black women.

The Fund also helps to pay for legal fees and costs for selected cases of workplace sexual harassment. In almost half of the cases, the plaintiffs are women of color; 17 percent of the cases the Fund supports involve Black women. While most of the funded cases are ongoing, 86 percent of resolved cases have been resolved in favor of TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund-supported workers.

Here are some of the stories of Black survivors supported by the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund and the combined challenges of gender and racial discrimination that they’ve faced in the workplace.

Jasmine Edwards: Intersectional Discrimination In Retail

When Jasmine Edwards was hired as a GUESS store co-manager in San Leandro, California she was told that she would be quickly promoted to store manager and given a raise. Instead, as she explained in her complaint, she faced ongoing racial and sexual harassment from her manager.

Jasmine Edwards’s case is supported by the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund.

Jasmine claims that the manager created a hostile work environment for female and Black employees. He made degrading remarks about both employees and customers, leering at female customers and directing female staff to “dress sexier.” He assigned his employees segregated shifts based on their race, gave Latinx employees preferential treatment, and racially profiled Black customers.

Jasmine fought back, making three formal written complaints. Like so many workers who complain, she faced retaliation in return. As the retaliation escalated, the anxiety and stress of the situation caused Jasmine to resign from her position. The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is helping to fund the attorneys and media assistance for her case.

Jamelia Fairley: Sexual Harassment in Low-Paying Jobs

Trying to make ends meet while also dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace is something that Jamelia Fairley, a McDonald’s worker and single mom, has lived firsthand. She is one of dozens of McDonald’s workers whose cases are being supported by the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund.

For too many low-paid workers, risking your job to speak up about sexual harassment or assault is an impossible choice — one that could mean not being able to put food on the table or pay the rent.

Women make up nearly two-thirds of the workforce in low-paid jobs, and Black women are vastly overrepresented in these jobs across the country. Their share of the low-paid workforce is 1.5 times their share of the workforce as a whole. In addition, Black women in low-paid jobs are most likely to be sole or primary breadwinners for their families. Eighty-four percent of Black mothers in the low-paid workforce are sole or primary breadwinners.

Jamelia Fairley speaks out about the sexual harassment she endured while working at McDonald's outside of the company's headquarters in Chicago.

Jamelia was working at a McDonald’s store in Sanford, Florida when a coworker began groping her on the job. Jamelia reported him and he was moved to another store. Soon, another employee started making sexual comments about her one-year-old daughter. After Jamelia reported the incident, she faced retaliation and her hours were cut.

On April 13, 2020, with support from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, Jamelia and her coworker Ashley filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of McDonald’s restaurant workers at more than 100 restaurants.

The suit, filed in federal court in McDonald’s home state of Illinois, seeks to address widespread harassment in corporate owned and operated McDonald’s restaurants across Florida, which has the largest concentration of stores run by the corporation in the nation.

No one should have to go through what we’ve been through. But we’re strong, and together we have a voice. We’re using that voice to hold McDonald’s accountable. Jamelia Fairley
McDonald's Worker

Black survivors, forced to reckon with a racist society, face unique systemic and cultural barriers to coming forward about sexual violence — barriers that can result in the silencing or dismissal of their stories. The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund remains committed to helping Black survivors of workplace harassment surpass these barriers, so they have an equal opportunity to heal and pursue justice.

If you have faced sexual misconduct at work, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is here to help. Learn more here.

Housed and administered by the National Women’s Law Center Fund, all operations of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund are completely independent of the TIME’S UP Foundation and TIME’S UP Now. Decisions about cases, eligibility, and funding are made by TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund staff at the National Women’s Law Center Fund based on a rigorous evaluation against a consistent set of guidelines that are in no way influenced by any outside agenda, person, organization, or entity.