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Lawyers fight for everyday women bringing #MeToo complaints
By DAVID CRARY | Sun, September 29, 2019 07:19 EDT
Jaribu Hill didn’t opt for law school until her early 40s. She’d been a singer, actress, teacher and labor organizer before learning a college classmate had become head of a group for black female judges. “I can do that, too,” she thought.
Hill has since become a leading civil rights and workers’ rights lawyer in Mississippi and now, at 70, she’s part of a nationwide network of attorneys helping women without much money pursue often-costly sexual misconduct cases.
“We’re looking for opportunities to lift up women who’ve never been lifted up,” Hill said.
She is among 721 attorneys inspired by the #MeToo movement who have signed up with the Times Up Legal Defense Fund since it launched last year. While the movement burst into the spotlight in October 2017 with celebrities and others accusing powerful men of sexual misconduct, the fund is reaching everyday working women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to take their complaints to court.
The Times Up fund, administered by the National Women’s Law Center, has received more than 3,670 requests for assistance and has funded 160 cases thanks to $24 million in donations.
The lawyers in its network hail from big law firms and small practices in 45 states. One is a Harvard Law School graduate who has represented truck drivers and laundry workers. Another is a Washington, D.C., attorney whose approach to discrimination cases evolved after losing his vision a decade ago.
The law center’s president, Fatima Goss Graves, praised their commitment.
“Workers who experience sexual harassment and retaliation across all industries now know there are attorneys who have their back,” she said.
Hill was the first lawyer in Mississippi to receive support from the Times Up fund. The money helped her with a lawsuit from a black woman in her mid-50s who says she was sexually harassed by a co-worker at a regional bus line, then fired after complaining to her superiors.
Hill said the case will go to trial in February unless the bus company offers a “meaningful settlement.”
The plaintiff, Sandra Norman, “has always been a victim of the system,” Hill said. “But we should never assume just because someone’s been beaten down, they don’t have the courage to tell their story.”
Hill grew up in Ohio and chose the City University of New York for law school before founding the Mississippi Worker’s Center for Human Rights to advocate for low-wage workers.
The fund has enabled Hill to recruit investigators and law students to help her.
“We’re telling young lawyers: ‘If you’re brave enough and skilled enough to take these cases, there’s help out there,'” she said.
Based in Washington, David Shaffer has challenged several federal law enforcement agencies — including the Secret Service — in civil rights class-action lawsuits from employees.
With help from the Time’s Up fund, he’s working on perhaps his highest-profile case: representing 16 female FBI recruits who allege gender discrimination. They sued in May over sexual harassment and unfair performance evaluations.
The case will extend into next year — perhaps longer — and Shaffer isn’t sure whether the FBI would consider a settlement.
Shaffer, 61, has considered himself a strong civil-rights advocate throughout his career, but his perspective evolved as he lost his vision over a two-year period starting when he was 49.
“That provided me a lot more insight into the world of people with disabilities,” he said. “I realized how much of the world was inaccessible to the blind and was in position to do something about it.”
He now juggles his practice with a job at Washington’s public transit agency, where he tries to make the metro system more accessible to vision-impaired riders.
Shaffer also is trying to mentor young blind lawyers and law students. His message to them: “You can do it.”
Childhood memories of inequality stuck with Kathryn Youker as she started representing victims of racial and gender discrimination.
As a white child in the majority Hispanic city of Harlingen, Texas, “I saw inequality in a very stark and racist way,” she said. “I always questioned why I had opportunities available to me that my classmates and friends didn’t have.”
Now based in Brownsville — a twin city of Harlingen on the Mexican border — Youker, 44, coordinates labor and employment cases for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which provides free services to thousands of low-income residents and migrant workers.
Many of her cases have involved workplace sexual harassment. One of her clients, Carmen Garza, won about a year’s pay in a March settlement after suing her employers for failing to protect her from sexual harassment while working as home care aide.
Youker is coordinating a Times Up grant to help Texas RioGrande expand community outreach on sexual harassment.
“We’re talking about how it’s happening here — in restaurants, in private homes,” she said. “It’s a very intimate discussion.”
Philadelphia attorney Robert Vance, who has specialized in employment discrimination cases for four decades, says the fund is allowing him to help harassment victims who never could have paid legal bills on their own.
Vance represented Malin DeVoue, an African American woman who was fired as head cook at a Philadelphia hotel after complaining to managers that the hotel’s chief engineer was sexually harassing her.
The case was settled in June. The amount DeVoue received hasn’t been made public, but Vance said she is happy with the money and relieved to avoid a trial.
“Sexual harassment cases are difficult to do, because clients often have been fired and have no financial resources,” Vance said. “The fund is wonderful because you can devote as much time as the case requires.”
As an African American man, Vance finds it rewarding to represent minority women and help them gain confidence that their allegations will be believed.
“I’m motivated to represent them as zealously and successfully as I can because I know what my family’s female members go through,” he said.
Eve Cervantez enrolled in Harvard Law School anticipating a career in international law. After campus activism changed her outlook, she’s spent more than 25 years championing workers who have faced mistreatment and discrimination.
Working for the San Francisco-based public interest law firm Altshuler Berzon, Cervantez’s clients in class-action lawsuits have included pizza delivery drivers, auto mechanics and bank tellers.
With Times Up’s support, she’s handling sexual harassment complaints that several dozen McDonald’s workers in numerous cities filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The women alleged groping, propositions for sex, indecent exposure and lewd comments by supervisors. They say they were ignored or mocked, and in some cases faced retaliation, after making their allegations.
Cervantez’s team has asked the federal agency to consolidate the complaints and investigate whether McDonald’s has systemic harassment problems.
“The goal is not just about money,” said Cervantez, 55. “It’s about changing practices going forward so employers treat people fairly.”
Crary reported from New York.
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Spanish island of Tenerife suffers massive power outage
Sun, September 29, 2019 04:16 EDT
MADRID (AP) — A major power outage in Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands left nearly 1 million people without electricity, authorities said Sunday.
The local government said that the outage had affected “the entire island,” but that emergency generators were working for basic services such as hospitals. Within hours, Spain’s electrical network said 65% of power had been restored.
Emergency services said crews had responded to over 700 incidents related to the blackout by evening. Officials said the calls mostly involved people trapped in elevators, alarms that were triggered, and doors that had to be forced open.
Patricia Hernández, the mayor of Tenerife’s capital, told Cadena SER that authorities were investigating the cause of the outage.
Tenerife is part of the Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwestern coast of Africa. A key tourist destination, the islands have over 900,000 residents in addition to hosting tens of thousands of tourists and dozens of cruise ships each year.
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More violence grips Hong Kong ahead of China’s National Day
By EILEEN NG 11:40 EDT
HONG KONG (AP) — Protesters and police clashed in Hong Kong for a second straight day on Sunday, throwing the semiautonomous Chinese territory’s business and shopping belt into chaos and sparking fears of more ugly scenes leading up to China’s National Day holiday this week.
Riot police repeatedly fired blue liquid — used to identify protesters — from a water cannon truck and multiple volleys of tear gas after demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails at officers and targeted the city’s government office complex.
It was a repeat of Saturday’s clashes and part of a familiar cycle since pro-democracy protests began in early June. The protests were sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill and have since snowballed into an anti-China movement.
“We know that in the face of the world’s largest totalitarian regime — to Quote: Captain America, ‘Whatever it takes,'” Justin Leung, a 21-year-old demonstrator who covered his mouth with a black scarf, said of the violent methods deployed by hard-line protesters. “The consensus right now is that everyone’s methods are valid and we all do our part.”
Protesters are planning to march again Tuesday despite a police ban, raising fears of more violent confrontations that would embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping as his ruling Communist Party marks 70 years since taking power. Posters are calling for Oct. 1 to be marked as “A Day of Grief.”
“So many youngsters feel that they’re going to have no future because of the power of China,” Andy Yeung, 40, said as he pushed his toddler in a stroller. “It’s hopeless for Hong Kong. If we don’t stand up, there will be no hope.”
Hong Kong’s government has already scaled down the city’s National Day celebrations, canceling an annual fireworks display and moving a reception indoors.
Despite security concerns, the government said Sunday that Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, will lead a delegation of over 240 people to Beijing on Monday to participate in National Day festivities.
Sunday’s turmoil started in the early afternoon when police fired tear gas to disperse a large crowd that had amassed in the popular Causeway Bay shopping district. But thousands of people regrouped and defiantly marched along a main thoroughfare toward government offices, crippling traffic.
Protesters, many clad in black with umbrellas and carrying pro-democracy posters and foreign flags, sang songs and chanted “Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom.” Some defaced, tore down and burned National Day congratulatory signs, setting off a huge blaze on the street. Others smashed windows and lobbed gasoline bombs into subway exits that had been shuttered.
Police then fired a water cannon and tear gas as the crowd approached the government office complex. Most fled but hundreds returned, hurling objects into the complex.
Members of an elite police squad, commonly known as raptors, then charged out suddenly from behind barricades, taking many protesters by surprise. Several who failed to flee in time were subdued and detained in a scene of chaos.
The raptors, backed by scores of riot police, pursued protesters down roads to nearby areas. Officers continued to fire a water cannon and more tear gas, and the cat-and-mouse clashes lasted late into the night. Streets were left littered with graffiti on walls and debris.
The demonstration was part of global “anti-totalitarianism” rallies to denounce “Chinese tyranny.” Thousands rallied in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, while more than 1,000 took part in a rally in Sydney.
The protracted unrest, approaching four months long, has battered Hong Kong’s economy, with businesses and tourism plunging.
Chief Executive Lam held her first community dialogue with the public on Thursday in a bid to defuse tensions but failed to persuade protesters, who vowed to press on until their demands are met, including direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.
Earlier Sunday, hundreds of pro-Beijing Hong Kong residents sang the Chinese national anthem and waved red flags at the Victoria Peak hilltop and a waterfront cultural center in a show of support for Chinese rule.
“We want to take this time for the people to express our love for our country, China. We want to show the international community that there is another voice to Hong Kong” apart from the protests, said organizer Innes Tang.
Mobs of Beijing supporters have appeared in malls and on the streets in recent weeks to counter pro-democracy protesters, leading to brawls between the rival camps.
Many people view the extradition bill, which would have sent criminal suspects to mainland China for trial, as a glaring example of the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
China has denied chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedoms and accused the U.S. and other foreign powers of fomenting the unrest to weaken its dominance.
Associated Press journalists Ken Moritsugu in Beijing and Katie Lam and John Leicester in Hong Kong contributed to this report.
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Austrians boost Kurz’s conservatives, Greens in snap poll
By PHILIPP JENNE and FRANK JORDANS 03:31 EDT
VIENNA (AP) — Austrian ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is poised for a return to power, after his conservative People’s Party won a snap election Sunday that was called following the collapse of his government with the far-right Freedom Party in May.
Kurz’s party was expected to get 37.1% of the vote in parliamentary elections, a gain of 5.7 percentage points compared with 2017, according to projections released by public broadcaster ORF.
“Today, the people have voted us back in again,” Kurz, 33, told cheering supporters after the election, even as he refrained from saying which party he would seek to form a new government with.
The environmentalist Greens are one possible option. The party, which failed to enter parliament two years ago, looked set for a big comeback and was projected to get 14% of the vote. Austrians, like voters elsewhere in Europe, have expressed increasing concern over the past year about climate change, the party’s core topic.
The far-right Freedom Party was forecast to lose almost 10 percentage points and come third with 16.1%, a sign that voters were punishing the party for a leaked video that showed its long-time leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer favors to a purported Russian investor. The center-left Social Democrats were projected to come second with 21.7%, a loss of over 5 percentage points compared with 2017.
The Alpine country of 8.8 million has been run by a non-partisan interim administration since June, after Kurz pulled the plug on his coalition with the Freedom Party over the Strache video. The footage, published by German news outlets Der Spiegel and Sueddeutsche Zeitung, showed Strache pandering to a woman claiming to be a Russian tycoon’s niece at a boozy gathering in Ibiza two years ago.
About 6.4 million Austrians aged 16 and older were eligible to vote. The turnout was 75.5%.
Speaking alongside other party leaders late Sunday, Kurz said his 17-month alliance with the Freedom Party had been “very good” until the Ibiza video was published and pledged to hold talks with all parties represented in parliament.
The Freedom Party, whose anti-migrant message failed to resonate so strongly with voters this time, indicated it would prefer a spell in opposition.
“A party needs to learn from the mistakes of the past and rebuild itself,” said the Freedom Party’s new leader, Norbert Hofer.
The Social Democrats, who have led many of post-World War II Austria’s governing coalitions, remain a possible junior partner, having failed to capitalize on the government’s collapse under leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner.
“It’s not what we hoped for. It’s not what we fought for,” she said after the party received its worst result since 1945.
Despite their political proximity, a coalition between Kurz’s party and the pro-business Neos appeared unlikely after the latter received just 7.8% of the vote.
Werner Kogler, heads of the Austrian Greens, acknowledged that his party benefited from the growing emphasis placed on fighting climate change, particularly among young voters.
“We want to be able to look them in the eyes,” he said when asked about the possibility of joining a future government.
Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin.
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The Latest: Taiwanese march in support of HK protests
Sun, September 29, 2019 06:32 EDT
HONG KONG (AP) — The Latest on protests in Hong Kong (all times local):
Thousands of people have marched in Taiwan in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.
Spurred by anti-China cries from loudspeakers, demonstrators took to the streets of Taipei, the capital, on Sunday despite heavy rain. Most wore black and a few donned gas masks, both symbols of the Hong Kong protests.
Protester Lin Shu-lian, a 50-year-old office worker, said she is saddened that people in Hong Kong have lost their freedom. She added: “I hope Taiwanese can send a signal that we won’t become the next Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong is a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997. The semiautonomous city has more freedoms than mainland China, but protesters feel those freedoms are being eroded.
Taiwan is a self-governing island that split from the mainland in 1949. Government surveys indicate that most Taiwanese oppose unification with China.
Members of an elite police squad have charged out from behind barricades surrounding the Hong Kong government office complex, after protesters continued to throw objects and attempted to scale the barriers despite police use of a water cannon earlier.
The sudden appearance of the officers, commonly known as raptors, took many protesters by surprise Sunday and a number who failed to flee in time were subdued and detained in a scene of chaos.
Hundreds of protesters had regrouped again after retreating earlier when a water cannon truck sprayed blue water to disperse the crowd. They sprayed graffiti and hurled objects over the barricades.
The police squad, backed by scores of riot officers, suddenly streamed out and pursued protesters down roads to nearby areas. They continued to fire multiple rounds of tear gas in the continuing cat-and-mouse battle.
Riot police in Hong Kong have fired a water cannon and more rounds of tear gas to block protesters from advancing toward the government office complex in the city’s downtown area.
A march by thousands of people who defied a police ban appeared to have fizzled Sunday after riot police used tear gas to disperse the crowd at several spots as they headed toward government headquarters.
A water cannon truck positioned behind barricades surrounding government buildings sprayed blue liquid used to identify protesters, forcing demonstrators to retreat. The scene was similar to clashes on Saturday, when protesters targeted the government complex.
At another street nearby, dozens of black-clad protesters wearing gas masks used their umbrellas to form a shield as they stayed a few hundred meters away from a police cordon. Some picked up tear gas canisters shot at them and threw them back toward the police officers.
Thousands of protesters have regrouped after police fired tear gas at them and are marching along a thoroughfare in downtown Hong Kong, defying a police ban.
The protesters, some clad in black and carrying umbrellas and pro-democracy posters, are signing songs and chanting “Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom” as they took over a stretch of a road over 1 kilometer (1.6 mile) long and heading toward the government office complex.
Many fled earlier after riot police fired multiple rounds of tear gas to disperse a large crowd that amassed at the Causeway Bay shopping area. But protesters returned and started their march shortly after. Some are carrying American and British flags.
Some of them sprayed graffiti along walls and smashed windows at a subway exit. A police helicopter is hovering above.
Riot police have thrown tear gas and cordoned off part of a street at Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping belt after a large crowd started to amass for an anti-China rally ahead of Tuesday’s National Day celebrations.
Protesters chanted slogans and heckled police as they were pushed back behind a police line. The atmosphere is tense as police warned the crowd they were taking part in an illegal assembly. Officers fired tear gas canisters after some protesters threw bottles and other objects in their direction.
Police earlier searched some protesters and several people were detained. The crowd has swelled to more than 1,000 people, with many spilling into adjacent streets.
Sunday’s gathering, a continuation of monthslong protests for greater democracy, is part of global “anti-totalitarianism” rallies planned in over 60 cities worldwide to denounce “Chinese tyranny.”
Hundreds of pro-Beijing supporters in Hong Kong sang the Chinese national anthem and waved red flags ahead of China’s National Day to counter pro-democracy protests viewed as a challenge to Beijing’s rule.
Sunday’s show of support for Beijing comes a day after fresh violence in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, with police firing tear gas and water cannons after protesters threw bricks and firebombs at government buildings following a massive rally.
The protests began in June over a now-shelved extradition bill but have snowballed into demands for democratic reforms.
Organizer Innes Tang says Sunday’s event is aimed at backing Chinese sovereignty and calling for peaceful celebrations amid plans for a major protest march that could mar Tuesday’s festivities for the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party taking power.