Years later, Weinstein is off to prison, but the Legislature still has not acted on sexual harassment law

Harvey Weinstein has been found guilty, but necessary changes to sexual harassment law remain unfinished.

“All sixteen said that the behavior was widely known within both Miramax and the Weinstein Company.” 

Those 16 words changed my life. It was October 10, 2017 — I was a freshman state representative attending a legislative conference in Washington D.C. when I read those words. I was taking a break between sessions, scrolling through my feed when I found the piece by Ronan Farrow. It revealed, in excruciating detail, a pattern of abuse by one of the most powerful men in media —  a man who built assault and harassment into his business model. 

It was the quotes about this “widely known” behavior that knocked the wind out of me and made me sit down on the hotel room floor. I knew all too well about the powerful serial harassers in the Minnesota Legislature that everyone knew about. I was the target of their harassment. Reading these quotes, and the descriptions of widespread complicity of those who stayed silent about it, prompted me to come forward with my story. During my time running for and serving in the state Legislature, I was repeatedly harassed by the colleagues I was supposed to work with to improve the lives of Minnesotans. With those 16 words, I decided I could no longer allow soliciations for sex and predatory comments to be part of a normal day at work. 

Deciding to come forward was hard. I contacted a journalist just days after the New Yorker story was published. “I believe her” wasn’t yet a common refrain. #MeToo wasn’t trending on Twitter. I was sure that I was ending my legislative career, but I could no longer let my silence protect predators at the Capitol. The response to me coming forward shocked me. I received support from people on both sides of the aisle, from across the state, from all walks of life, including from my colleague, former Rep. Pepin. She introduced the bill in 2018 to address sexual harassment for all Minnesotans. 

The Minnesota Human Rights Act defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature” when that behavior is specifically tied to employment, housing, education and public accomodations. 

Instead of using the definition written into Minnesota law, however, state courts use an outdated federal standard which states that sexual harassment must be “severe or pervasive” to be considered illegal. This incredibly high legal threshold allows harassment to thrive and makes it harder for victims to seek justice — even if everyone at work knows it’s happening. 

Pepin’s bill sought to remove this standard, and Rep. Kelly Moller picked up the mantle in 2019 by introducing HF10. Unfortunately, today it languishes in the Minnesota Senate, where leadership has promised to block it’s passage. 

I made a commitment to survivors when I first came forward to use my voice not just to draw attention to a culture of harassment, but to work actively to change it. The Legislature should follow suit and focus on passing bills like HF10. They should be working to create new norms for a world where sexual harassment is understood as a barrier to workplace success, not an unfortunate side effect of it. 

Reading the first story about Harvey Weinstein is what spurred me to come forward. Reading the story of his conviction reminds me how much is still left to do. Weinstein was convicted of rape in a court of law. The court of public opinion has determined that his actions and the actions of legislators who harassed me were unacceptable. So why can’t the Minnesota Legislature join the 91% of Minnesotans who support stronger legal protections for victims of sexual harassment?

We do not have to accept an outdated legal hurdle for sexual harassment that discourages victims and survivors from speaking out and keeps abusers in power. We have the opportunity to pass meaningful legislation to address sexual harassment and follow through on the promises of #MeToo for every Minnesotan.