John Lasseter (standing to the right). (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Men of #MeToo Are Back, and No One Knows Quite How to Respond

(Bloomberg) -- The men of #MeToo want their careers back. 

Less than 18 months since public allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct began to topple hundreds of powerful men, several of the accused are already back to work. Among them: Pixar co-founder John Lasseter is now head of a nascent animation division at Skydance Media; architect Richard Meier is still plugging away at his firm; ousted Intel Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian Krzanich is now leading CDK Global Holdings. Even the comedians Louis CK and Aziz Ansari have started performing again, with mixed receptions.

In total, at least a dozen of the accused have been hired, funded and reinstated.

The allegations aren’t the same in each case, and the men now reviving their careers reacted to their public censure in different ways. But as they and others resurface in professional life, it opens a new phase of the #MeToo movement. There wasn’t a precedent for the outpouring of accusations that targeted more than 425 men in 2018, and there’s no precedent for what comes next—not for women who suffered inappropriate advances nor for men who made them.

“We don’t have the common formula for, ‘You did something bad. You have to do this to make it up to us. You make it up to us. The slate is clean. Let’s move on,’” said Kabrina Chang, who teaches classes on ethics at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. “This is coupled with the fact that we’re looking at sort of a public awakening of hundreds of years of sexual harassment and repression of women.”

After accusations of Lasseter’s inappropriate behavior surfaced at Pixar, the executive sent a memo to Walt Disney Co. employees in which he apologized for unwanted hugs or other offensive gestures. He apologized again for his behavior shortly after assuming his post at Skydance. David Ellison, son of Oracle founder Larry Ellison and founder of the Santa Monica, California-based Skydance Media, said it had hired a legal team to investigate the accusations against Lasseter and that his “mistakes have been recognized.” 

Men of #MeToo Are Back, and No One Knows Quite How to Respond

That didn’t convince many female animators, who grumbled that it was too soon. Marge Dean, the president of Women in Animation, expressed her “shock and distress” in an open letter on the group’s Facebook page, and Mirielle Soria, who runs Paramount Pictures’ animation division, told her employees they didn’t have to work with Lasseter. With decades of Hollywood success standing in for Kevlar, actor Emma Thompson pulled out of a film she was making with Skydance in protest of Lasseter’s hiring.

“I am well aware that centuries of entitlement to women’s bodies whether they like it or not is not going to change overnight. Or in a year,” Thompson wrote in her letter of resignation, which was published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times. “But I am also aware that if people who have spoken out—like me—do not take this sort of a stand then things are very unlikely to change at anything like the pace required to protect my daughter’s generation.”

Similarly, women who have accused architect Meier of a pattern of harassment have been incensed by reports that he’s returned to his firm after a six-month leave; day-to-day operations are still in the hands of Bernhard Karpf, a top lieutenant, and other principals. “Obviously, it’s not the toxic thing we thought it would be,” Karpf said recently

“For one of the partners to come forward and say this is last year’s news and we’re moving forward, it is negating and dismissive and insensitive," said Stella Lee, who said Meier exposed himself to her when she went to work at his home in the early 2000s. “To erase it, to sweep it under the rug, is not the right response.”

“We have taken and continue to take this matter very seriously,” said a spokesman for Richard Meier & Partners, noting that the office has new management, new policies and more number of women in senior roles. 

The right response isn’t always clear. Some of the alleged offenders—Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey—are facing criminal charges. (Both have pleaded not guilty.) But very few of the accusations aired over the last year have been resolved by any formal or public process, and many are years or decades old. Intel’s Krzanich was fired for having a consensual relationship with a junior employee—generally recognized as a bad decision but not evidence of a pattern of creepy or criminal behavior. When he was hired at CDK, the company cited his “exceptional track record” and said he had the board’s full confidence.

The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which offers financial support for women who want to take their harassers to court, encourages accused executives to pursue a path of full apology, demonstrated rehabilitation and restitution for the victims. “I’ve seen stories about a number of people ready to come back but very little about what they’re doing to repair the harm they caused,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, which administers the Time’s Up fund. “What you’ve seen instead is a lot of equivocating about whether or not they had done anything important at all.”

Men of #MeToo Are Back, and No One Knows Quite How to Respond

Corporate boards need to ensure they are dealing with the individual harassers and the women they harassed, Goss Graves said, as well as the culture that enabled the harassment in the first place. Whatever the process, the board needs to be transparent about what changes are being made. Companies should expect to pay reparations, either to individuals identified or to fund broader campaigns to stop the unacceptable behavior.

Some of the bad actors have enough money or professional capital to reestablish themselves on their own. Uber Technologies Inc. founder Travis Kalanick bought a real estate company, and advertising icon Martin Sorrell set up a new firm to compete with his old one. Les Moonves, who left CBS Corp. after multiple sexual misconduct claims, has set up a new business funded by his former employer, the New York Times reported.

That presents a different calculation for potential employees. “If John Lasseter started his own company, then every employee would have been given the opportunity to choose whether or not to give him a second chance,” Thompson wrote in her letter. Current employees who don’t want to work with him, however, “have to stay and be uncomfortable or lose their jobs.”

The same logic applies to entertainers and, to some degree, political figures. Louis CK expressed remorse and regret in a statement, and now the public can decide whether to buy a ticket to one of his shows. Aziz Ansari, another comedian who faced accusations of personal misbehavior, is back to selling out. Earlier this month, according to review of a recent show in New York magazine, Ansari took on the sexual impropriety allegation in public for the first time since his comeback, saying the experience had made him a better person and hoped it would be a learning experience for other men.

Men of #MeToo Are Back, and No One Knows Quite How to Respond

For companies and industries, money often conveys a certain amount of contrition, said Ken Feinberg, a lawyer who specializes in assessing and administering damages to victims of mass tragedies, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, BP Plc oil spill and sexual abuse in the Catholic church. That could come from a group of companies or from an industry group, he said, but reparations will almost certainly have to be part of any solution that will work.

Roxane Gay, a writer, academic and survivor of sexual violence, suggested in a New York Times column on Louis CK that a course of rehabilitation include financially compensating victims “for all the work they did not get to do because of his efforts to silence them” and payment for mental health care. If that sounds like a crass accounting, Feinberg said it’s also an almost universally accepted one. In the situations where he’s coordinated claims, few people decline the money offered as restitution.

Still, there’s another element that’s important: acknowledgement and apology. “The validation of the victim’s story is very important in closing the circle,” Feinberg said.

That might be enough for Liz Lee, who says Meier exposed himself to her. Some men may be irredeemable in the workplace because of their pattern of behavior, she said, but those that aren’t have to make an extreme effort. On her view public shaming also serves a purpose. 

“I hate to say it, but they need to be embarrassed," Lee said in an interview. “This is an embarrassing thing for someone to be doing to someone else. There needs to be a point where they’re just sitting there and saying, ‘OK, I should not have done that, and I am sorry.’ And that’s it. Don’t say anything else.”

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