On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law two key anti-sexual harassment bills that were prominently championed by actresses and #MeToo activists Jessica Barth, Lili Bernard, and Mira Sorvino.
AB 9, the Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension Act, extends the deadline for victims of workplace sexual harassment, discrimination, or other civil rights-related retaliations to file complaints from one year to three years.
The second bill signed into law, AB 51, prevents employers from requiring their employees or applicants to waive their rights under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act as a condition of employment. Though the bill doesn’t override anything “otherwise enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act,” it still protects victims of workplace harassment or other violations who signed forced arbitration clauses that would settle harassment claims in private.
“When we use our voice, and we speak our truth, and we join our voices together, there’s almost no limit to what we can achieve. It’s really empowering. It’s really beautiful,” Sorvino told TheWrap Thursday night. “It’s kind of amazing to see democracy at work, because it really does work. I know that some things seem broken in our system right now, but the way that lawmaking works, if you really bring the will of the people to the legislators and you push hard enough, things change.”
“We’re using the celebrity of our unfortunate trauma to really just transform our trauma to triumph for future generations,” Bernard, a Bill Cosby accuser and prominent advocate for other victims, also told TheWrap following the passage of the bills. “Even three years is a really short time. It takes time for the victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault to process the trauma, it takes time for the victim to — it’s just a tremendous process where you feel safe enough to actually speak up.”
Passage of the new laws come after a years-long effort from #MeToo activists and the Equal Rights Advocates, Sorvino told TheWrap; similar versions of the two bills had been sent to former Governor Jerry Brown, who declined to sign them.
On Thursday, Sorvino, Barth, and Bernard sent a letter — signed by over 100 prominent Hollywood and #MeToo figures, including Tarana Burke, Rosanna Arquette, Gretchen Carlson, Alyssa Milano, and Amber Tamblyn — to Newsom advocating for AB 9 and AB 51.
“Many victims of Sexual Harassment do not even recognize that the harm inflicted upon them is against the law; those who do, most often need time to before they are ready to speak out about their abuse,” the letter said. “We are at a pivotal moment in history, when such a heightened awareness of the abuse of power needs to lead to concrete action!”
“It was a really powerful, moving, groundswell of support that just really touched us all,” Barth told TheWrap. “At one point, I got really choked up reading the text messages, and we just kept adding names of support [to the letter].”
Despite Thursday’s successes, Sorvino, Bernard, and Barth are still keeping their sights on a third bill that Newsom has not yet signed — AB 749, which would prevent employers from implementing “no re-hire” clauses for victims of sexual harassment — that they had advocated for in their letter.
Sorvino — who was one of the earliest people to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of misconduct — had also pushed for the bill in a separate personal letter to Newsom prior to his signing the new laws. “My career is only finally beginning to recover from being blacklisted by Weinstein for refusing his advances,” she wrote. “I cannot even imagine if entire categories of his affiliates were permanently off-limits to me as potential employers.”
Barth also said that no-rehire clauses often meant survivors had to give up their job or dreams. “It’s just another way for people in the positions of power over you to dictate what you do, where you go,” she said. “Whether or not you’re still working for them, they’re still dictating your future, and that’s unacceptable.”
“What kind of support are we going to receive to rekindle our careers that were cut short because we were preyed upon?” Bernard asked. “These bills are going to be critical.”
Sorvino said she’s still optimistic about the precedent the two new laws will set for both California and the rest of the nation.
“I think that this legislation, in the next two or three years, you’ll see this downloaded to many other states because #MeToo is not stopping,” Sorvino said.
“Sexual harassment is the gateway drug to much more serious sexual offenses,” Sorvino added. “It’s a testing ground for predators to see how much they can get away with, so it’s incredibly important to have strong anti-sexual harassment laws on the books. And today, what Governor Newsom did was bring us a lot closer to having that environment for almost 19 million workers in California.”
Representatives for Gov. Newsom didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a statement Thursday, Newsom said: “Work is about more than earning an income. For many, a job can provide a sense of purpose and belonging – the satisfaction of knowing your labor provides value to the world. Everyone should have the ability to feel that pride in what they do, but for too many workers, they aren’t provided the dignity, respect or safety they deserve. These laws will help change that.”