The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is poised tackle Hollywood’s ever-widening sexual harassment and abuse scandal. “We are taking this issue seriously, and I believe we will be coming to the press with something imminently,” said a member of the Academy’s board of governors, which met last night.
“The tone of the board is supportive of doing something on this,” another board member told Deadline. “And the big thing is the code of conduct piece which is the next piece to be agreed upon. That is being addressed now, and the plan and hope is to make it public. People need to be held accountable for their actions. The thing I feel great about is that there is a shift going on right now that is bigger than the group or membership.”
It remains unclear, however, if the Academy will establish a commission to address the problem, as was proposed by Academy vice president Kathleen Kennedy in a keynote address at the Women in Hollywood awards show on Oct. 16 – two days after disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein was kicked out of the Academy. Kennedy, who is out of town attending a premiere of the new Star Wars movie, could not be reach for comment.
The Academy declined to answer any questions, but a source said that it’s looking at a multi-pronged approach. “There is a separate code of conduct piece about how members are expected to conduct themselves, and then there is a separate piece of how to layer in Kathy Kennedy’s proposal, as well, for a broader effort. That will come when Kathy is back. Neither was discussed last night but we are working on the code of conduct piece.”
In her speech at the Women in Hollywood awards, Kennedy said: “I believe that, with determination, hard work, a willingness to act and a recognition of the urgency of immediate action, it is absolutely possible to protect people from sexual terrorism in their places of employment. It seems to me that the solution would include zero tolerance policies for abusive behavior, and a secure, reliable, unimpeachable system in which victims of abuse can report what’s happened to them with a confident expectation that action will be taken, without placing their employment, reputations and careers at risk.”
“The next goal would be to find a path toward universal compliance with these new standards and practices. It’s often the case that real-world application of good ideas is more difficult than arriving at the ideas themselves, and of course any new system will have flaws — but a new system that’s 80% right can change the world for the better.
“I’ve asked the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, of which I’m a governor, to take the first steps towards creating this commission. We have to act.”
As the Academy moves forward, it might take note that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces workplace anti-discrimination and sexual harassment laws, cautions against adopting “zero tolerance” policies regarding sexual harassment. Such policies, the EEOC notes, may not only be counterproductive, but may lead to punishments that don’t always fit the crime.
“We have a caution to offer with regard to use of the phrase ‘zero tolerance’ anti-harassment policy,” the federal agency says on its website. “We heard from several witnesses that use of the term ‘zero tolerance’ is misleading and potentially counterproductive. Accountability requires that discipline for harassment be proportionate to the offensiveness of the conduct.
“For example, sexual assault or a demand for sexual favors in return for a promotion should presumably result in termination of an employee; the continued use of derogatory gender-based language after an initial warning might result in a suspension; and the first instance of telling a sexist joke may warrant a warning.
“Although not intended as such, the use of the term ‘zero tolerance’ may inappropriately convey a one-size-fits-all approach, in which every instance of harassment brings the same level of discipline. This, in turn, may contribute to employee under-reporting of harassment, particularly where they do not want a colleague or co-worker to lose their job over relatively minor harassing behavior – they simply want the harassment to stop. Thus, while it is important for employers to communicate that absolutely no harassment will be permitted in the workplace, we do not endorse the term ‘zero tolerance’ to convey that message.”
SAG-AFTRA, in compliance with both state and federal laws, says that it “has adopted a zero tolerance policy against discrimination and harassment of its members and others employed under its collective bargaining agreements.”
ICM Partners has said that it too “has a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment,” and an HRTS-hosted panel discussion Monday night was billed as “a candid dinner discussion of how to create a culture of zero tolerance for sexual harassment on productions.”
Clearly, companies and organizations should adopt “zero tolerance” policies for sexual assault and sexual abuse in the workplace, but the EEOC recommends a more nuanced approach to sexual harassment – and a different phrase.