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What’s Behind the Huge Settlements in Today’s High Profile Sexual Harassment Cases?

October 7, 2017

The Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment charges have prompted a cavalcade of similar claims against other famous Hollywood moguls, directors, actors and media types, as well as highly placed politicians. The damage settlements reached in many of these entertainment industry cases (made prior to the public “outing”) are astronomical – and should give us pause as to the amounts. For example, Bill O’Reilly paid $32 million to a news analyst whom he alleged sexually harassed – a hefty sum regardless of how despicable the actions may have been in that case. Why so high? Power and position, of course.

In my legal practice, I’ve represented several women who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace; yet, the damages to these victims were minuscule relative to the high-profile settlements that have recently been shared in the media. The inequity has me wondering – should victims of sexual harassment receive less simply because their harasser is less visible, less “important” or low profile? A woman who is harassed every day on the job by a co-worker at a DIY retail chain, for example, may receive a settlement of $50,000 for damages. Her hourly pay rate in combination with her unskilled job – along with that of her harassing co-worker – are factored into the dollar value of the case. Separately, or together, neither of these employees possess much power in their individual roles; and unless the harassing behavior is store or corporation-wide, individual incidents of harassment don’t bring down a brand.

So, what does that say of the Weinstein situation, or those at Fox or other high-profile entertainment or media companies? It says it’s not about what they’ve done, but who they are. To them, the price tag on power and image is limitless – and those with the authority to protect themselves or their company (there frequently seem to be corporate accomplices in these cases) will go to extreme lengths to do so. The goal with these men is not to compensate the women (or men) for the unacceptable and sometimes criminal behavior they had to endure, but to protect the brand at all costs.

These settlements are typically approached with a high degree of confidentiality, but that may be changing, at least for government employees. As an attorney who has worked defending victims of sexual harassment and other types of workplace abuse for more than 20 years, I believe a shift is coming. Most recently, “me too” legislation was proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. A victim of sexual harassment herself, Senator Gillibrand has proposed an overhaul of the process of filing harassment claims currently governed by the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act.

The most notable change, requiring public disclosure of the employing office when a claim is settled – and disclosure of the amount – may actually discourage settlements and force parties into expensive, protracted litigation. If members of state government are not able to enter into confidential settlements, they would have no incentive to settle these cases and would be forced to exonerate themselves of every allegation to maintain their reputations among constituents. I am not all together sure this is a bad thing. Perhaps, complete transparency is necessary. However, I can assure you that this would create a massive amount of litigation and drive the costs of these suits up considerably.

Meanwhile, requiring public disclosure in the private sector is less likely to occur, keeping large, confidential settlements to victims of sexual harassment by persons of power as the status quo.

Vince Colella

November 27, 2017

Vince Colella Background

A. Vince Colella is a founding partner of Moss & Colella, P.C., a Southfield, Michigan based law firm that specializes in Personal Injury Trial Law and is a Michigan Civil Rights Lawyer. For more than two decades, Vince has tried and won cases in State and Federal Courts throughout Michigan. His extensive trial experience and expertise includes automobile negligence, civil rights, police brutality and misconduct, premises liability, sexual assault, construction and trucking accidents, insurance disputes, sexual harassment, discrimination in all its forms, and wrongful death. Vince and his law firm co-founder David Moss  have obtained millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for their clients.

Vince Colella has also handled many high-profile cases, including the shooting death of a 19- year-old by Warren police officers, a large apartment fire in a Southfield complex causing the death of two women and their children, an assault and battery case against one of the most successful reality television producers in Hollywood, California, and most recently the fatal shooting of a 31-year-old woman by a City of Dearborn Police Officer. He is known and recognized by lawyers and judges across the state as an aggressive, skillful and powerful trial lawyer as well as a leading Michigan civil rights lawyer. You may find him in the Michigan Trial Reporter (the leading publication for compiling verdict and settlement data in Michigan). You may also find him online in a number of press releases and stories by local newspapers and magazines. Vince has been recognized as an expert in personal injury and civil rights law by multiple peer review organizations, including Super Lawyers (2011-2017), DBusiness (Top Lawyers) and The National Trial Lawyers (Top 100).

Personal Background and Affiliations: Vince Colella has served as a member of the Executive Board for the Michigan Association for Justice (formerly known as the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association), which consists of the most respected and elite trial lawyers. State Bar of Michigan, Detroit Bar Association and Oakland County Bar Association. He is certified as a mediator and regularly hears cases for the Oakland County Circuit Court Mediation Program. In addition to his academic and professional associations, Vince played 23 years of rugby and is currently associated with the Detroit Tradesmen Rugby Football Club. He has played rugby in seven different countries throughout Europe, Canada and the West Indies. Additionally, he earned a 3rd degree black belt in the martial arts and has spent time teaching defensive tactics to women, children and police officers. His cases are frequently featured in Michigan Lawyers Weekly and other media outlets. Vince is a supporter of charitable organizations such as Orchard Children’s Services, Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, and Hug A Bear Foundation.

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The attorneys of Moss & Colella have carefully chosen their career paths to fight for those that have suffered from injury and wrongful death. We believe every citizen should have the right to hire the best lawyer who will actively advocate for their case.

David Moss and Vince Colella have over 60 collective years of personal injury trial experience that provides you a level of legal services and success unmatched by other firms. By working together, we have the ability to find creative, effective, and efficient solutions to even the most complex cases. No matter what situation you face, we will help you get through it.

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