January 24, 2018

Even though the #MeToo movement has led to a surge in public sexual harassment allegations, employment attorneys believe it may not necessarily result in the flood of litigation many assume lies ahead, since fear of retaliation and economic pressures that have long suppressed such cases remain entrenched.

Whether sexual harassment lawsuits will significantly increase is just one of the questions that hang over the future of #MeToo, the social media rallying cry that has come to signify the movement to empower women to share their own experiences of sexual harassment and has opened the door for a national conversation about ways to push back against it.

A common assumption has taken hold as part of the public discourse that the movement will result in more sexual harassment lawsuits, given the harsh spotlight it has shone on individual harassers and the general problem of systemic workplace harassment.

But attorneys who spoke with Law360 said that such an assumption may be premature since the barriers that prevented victims from pursuing such allegations still exist and aren’t going anywhere.

Joseph Sellers of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC said that while the #MeToo movement has heightened public awareness about harassment and given victims more confidence to come forward with complaints, it’s “too early to know” what the effect of the movement will be.

“There are an enormous number of reasons that people who have been the subject of harassment have been reluctant to challenge it,” Sellers said. “The effect of #MeToo is giving to some women and others an increased sense of community, that they are not alone in this process and that they won’t be viewed as isolated troublemakers … Whether they will act on it, I don’t know yet.”

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