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A mutiny among members of Time’s Up’s health care arm is denting the public image of the influential gender rights organization just as it is taking on a broader advocacy role in Hollywood, pushing for changes to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
Eighteen members of Time’s Up Healthcare have resigned in the past week over the organization’s handling of allegations that co-founder and board member Esther Choo failed to report complaints of sexual harassment made by a co-worker at Oregon Health & Science University. Those members feel the advocacy group has prioritized protecting Choo over supporting the anonymous plaintiff in the case.
The mass exodus represents more than one-third of the branch, which was created to tackle sexual harassment and gender discrimination issues in health care within Time’s Up Now’s larger organization. The controversy shines a light on persistent concerns that Time’s Up fails to fulfill its aim of prioritizing sexual assault and harassment survivors when that goal conflicts with the interests of powerful members or funders.
“I believed in the mission of Time’s Up Healthcare, which I thought was to center survivors,” says Monica McLemore, a Time’s Up Healthcare co-founder and an associate professor at UCSF’s family health care nursing department who resigned from the organization last week. “I’m angry because we missed a perfect opportunity to model the behavior we want to see from businesses and workplaces. I don’t need any more evidence to show me that some people aren’t serious about what they say.”
Time’s Up president and CEO Tina Tchen responded to the controversy in a lengthy March 10 statement to The Hollywood Reporter, which was then to go to Time’s Up leaders and supporters on March 11. “Dr. Choo acted in a way that she believed was in support of the survivor, including on the issue of reporting the abuse, and consistent with the values she has displayed as one of the people who founded TIME’S UP Healthcare,” the statement reads in part. “Providing support and counsel to those who have experienced the trauma of sexual harassment and abuse, especially in the workplace, can be hard. There is not always a clear path for advice and counsel, especially when centering the survivor’s wishes and ability to make decisions for herself in that moment … I do not agree that standing with the survivor and in support of her pursuit of justice requires that we walk away from Dr. Choo and her leadership.”
Days after the departing members of the Time’s Up health care group issued blistering public statements about the organization on Twitter, members of an entertainment committee at Time’s Up were sent an agreement containing a confidentiality clause to sign before their next meeting, March 17, an eyebrow-raising move for an organization founded in defiance of the nondisclosure agreements traditionally used in sexual harassment and assault settlements. A source at Time’s Up says the purpose of the agreement is to protect the privacy of members who may be sharing stories of abuse or harassment, not to protect the organization.
Some Hollywood-based sexual assault advocates and survivors have been following Time’s Up’s handling of the OHSU case with concern, including Harvey Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan, who calls the organization’s role here “disgusting and egregious.” McGowan tells THR, “I’ve tried to sound the alarm on Time’s Up for a long time. These are women at Time’s Up who help bad people. These are perpetrators now in their own right. There are many ways to participate in sexual [misconduct]. There’s the act and there’s the aftermath. They are gaslighting and have always been a fraud.”
While created as a gender rights group, Time’s Up has expanded its purview, recently taking a vocal role in critiquing the HFPA over that group’s racial composition and ethics. On March 9, Time’s Up called for all members of the HFPA to resign immediately, among other demands.
The Time’s Up Healthcare resignations, which began March 4 and continued through March 9, follow the February 26 filing of a sexual harassment lawsuit against former OHSU doctor Jason Campbell, popularly known as the “TikTok doctor” for videos showing him dancing at his hospital that were widely shared on TikTok during the pandemic. The complaint alleges that Campbell sent the plaintiff suggestive messages and photos, and came up behind her and pushed his erection into her. Neither Campbell nor his attorney responded to requests for comment.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff told Choo, a professor of emergency medicine at OHSU where she works with Campbell, about the harassment on March 31, 2020, and Choo failed to report it, as required under Title IX, to Laura Stadum, OHSU’s Title IX coordinator and a fellow Time’s Up Healthcare co-founder. (Choo, who also runs Equity Quotient, a for-profit company that consults on gender and racial issues in medicine, had recruited Stadum to join Time’s Up.) When the plaintiff provided details and screenshots, the complaint says, Choo responded via text, “Ugh, I’m giving him feedback.” In April, the plaintiff says she told Choo that Campbell had also sexually harassed and sexually assaulted an OHSU employee, but that the victim feared reporting it. Choo’s response to the plaintiff regarding reporting sexual harassment was, “It’s never worth it. Never,” the complaint says.
After media reports of the lawsuit began to circulate during the weekend of Feb. 27 and 28, multiple Time’s Up members heard from colleagues in the health care industry wondering when the group was going to respond, and various members pressed the leadership of Time’s Up to do so quickly. At the time, Time’s Up was focused on its high-profile HFPA efforts around the Feb. 28 Golden Globes ceremony.
Time’s Up consists of multiple arms, including the Legal Defense Fund housed by the National Women’s Law Center, which has backed more than 200 legal cases; the Time’s Up Foundation, which is the main 501(c)(3) public charity; and Time’s Up Now, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, which oversees Time’s Up Healthcare.
When the OHSU case became public and began sparking discussion in the medical community, McLemore emailed Tchen and COO Monifa Bandele suggesting the organization issue a statement of support for the plaintiff in the OHSU lawsuit and say publicly that Choo and Stadum would refrain from participating in any activities related to Time’s Up until the litigation is resolved. On a March 2 Zoom call with several Time’s Up Healthcare co-founders, Time’s Up Now leaders said doing so would be tantamount to an admission of guilt on Choo’s part and would attract more attention, according to multiple sources who were on the call. On a March 3 call with more than 20 members of Time’s Up Healthcare present but without Time’s Up Now leadership, a majority of members said they supported Choo temporarily stepping back. “Nobody hates Esther,” says a member who was on the March 3 call. “But they think she’s human, and humans make mistakes and when they make mistakes they should admit them and be accountable for them.”
On March 4, Time’s Up issued a statement saying that it stood “in solidarity with the survivor in her decision to share her story,” but defended Choo. “While Dr. Esther Choo is mentioned in the complaint, it is important to clarify that she is neither a defendant nor a party to the case,” the statement said. “The two defendants are Dr. Jason Campbell, who is alleged in the complaint to have committed the sexual harassment and assault at issue, and Oregon Health and Science University, then his employer. Because Dr. Choo is at most a witness to these events and may have to testify about them, it is not appropriate for Dr. Choo or TIME’S UP to comment further on matters in litigation.”
That statement sparked the wave of resignations. “There were split loyalties,” says Pringl Miller, a surgeon and Time’s Up Healthcare co-founder who is also president and founder of the advocacy group Physician Just Equity. “Rather than just centering the survivor, [the statement] was also about securing support for Dr. Choo.”
The concerns raised by the resigning Time’s Up Healthcare group members mirror those that sexual assault survivors raised last year around Time’s Up’s role behind the scenes in the HBO Max documentary On the Record. Oprah Winfrey, one of Time’s Up’s founding donors, had initially backed the project at Apple+ before dropping it, telling The New York Times and CBS This Morning that there were “inconsistencies” in the accounts of accusers. When Time’s Up declined to add its name to a list of organizations issuing a statement supporting the women who appear in the film, many gender equity activists felt the organization was choosing the interests of a powerful donor over those of the sexual assault survivors it was created to serve.
Tatiana Siegel contributed to this report.
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