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Wednesday
Jul172019

The Purple Campaign partners with Uber, Amazon to crack down on workplace sexual harassment

Josie_Desmarais/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A year ago, Ally Coll was working as a lawyer when her news feed began to fill up with #metoo posts.

She was surprised both by the volume of the posts and the fact that so many of them reminded her of her own experience when she was an 18-year old intern in the U.S. Senate.

"I was mostly struck by the stories that were being told, that they were speaking so publicly about experiences that I have had, that I know many of us have had, that have really remained in the shadows for so long," Coll told a handful of reporters at a private event on Tuesday in New York City. "I started thinking about my own experiences with sexual misconduct."

Coll would later recount her story of being sexually assaulted by her then boss, a 70-year old senator, to reporters from the Washington Post.

She said she identified with the lack of options for people who suffer workplace harassment right as she found herself close to the epicenter of the #metoo movement. David Boies, the head of her law fim, Boies, Schiller & Flexner, represented Harvey Weinstein, a longtime friend and client of his.

"I found myself in an unexpected #MeToo moment in my workplace. The New Yorker reported that my law firm had retained private investigators who targeted, lied to and secretly recorded conversations with women coming forward with allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein," Coll wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post, on The Purple Campaign's origins.

After working internally to create better workplace policies regarding sexual harassment and assault at the firm, she decided to commit herself full-time to the effort. She left the firm and co-founded The Purple Campaign.

Boies Schiller did not respond to request for comment from ABC News.

Thus, the Purple Campaign was launched a year ago with the ambitious goal of putting an end to "the systemic problem of workplace sexual harassment that exists across every industry in the United States."

On Tuesday, the campaign said it has partnered with Uber, Amazon, Airbnb and Expedia to develop a certification program for corporations to establish a policy regarding workplace harassment.

The companies will provide data, and some funding, to help develop a set of policies on normative behavior, effective employee training, internal reporting systems, fair investigation and adjudication procedures, measuring success and the intersectionality of workplace harassment.

The certification would be a third party check along the same lines as the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index that assesses companies' corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees.

The Purple Campaign announcement was met with cautious optimism by experts.

"I’ve been in discussions with companies on how to show their bona fides. I think it’s a good effort towards that," civil rights lawyer Debra Katz, who represented Dr. Christine Blasey Ford at the time of her sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh told ABC News. "You can have a good policy, but if there’s a concern about retaliation," the policy is not enough.

"One would want to know what the reporting rate it is," Katz said, and "to see if people feel safe reporting."

Labor expert Harley Shaiken of the University of California, Berkeley, called it "an impressive first step," but said the biggest challenge to confronting harassment is to make sure that employees have "a voice and enough power to give that voice meaning."

The partnership with a company like Uber, which has tried to shed what has been described as its frat boy image of a company that runs outside the reach of regulators, also underscores the challenges.

In 2017, after Uber commissioned a workplace culture report by former attorney general Eric Holder, it ousted its co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick per the report's recommendations. The report also recommended an overhaul of the company's diversity and inclusion practices including creating the office of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, a role that is currently filled by Bo Young Lee.

Since the time, the company has tried to change its culture and its image as it prepared for an initial public offering earlier this year.

University of Michigan Law School professor and labor expert Kate Andrias told ABC News that sexual harassment policies cannot succeed in a vacuum.

"Any effort to combat sexual harassment in the workplace is a step in the right direction and these sorts of programs have, in other contexts, helped somewhat to improve labor practices and to reduce discrimination," she said.

"But until these companies commit to respecting workers' rights more generally -- for example by ending the use mandatory arbitration agreements altogether; by no longer misclassifying workers as contractors, thereby leaving them unprotected by many employment laws; and by no longer opposing workers' rights to collective bargaining -- problems are likely to persist," she said. "When workers lack basic rights on the job, it is much harder to speak out against sexual harassment and to pursue remedies."

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