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Men of #MeToo are back, and no one knows quite how to respond

Pixar cofounder John Lasseter, now the head of a nascent animation division at Skydance Media. British actress Emma Thompson recently quit an anticipated film produced by Skydance because it hired Lasseter, who is accused of sexual harassment.Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

The men of #MeToo want their careers back.

Less than 18 months since public allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct began to topple hundreds of powerful men, several of the accused are already back to work. Among them: Pixar cofounder John Lasseter is now head of a nascent animation division at Skydance Media; architect Richard Meier is still plugging away at his firm; ousted Intel Corp. chief executive Brian Krzanich is now leading CDK Global Holdings. Even the comedians Louis CK and Aziz Ansari have started performing again, with mixed receptions.

In total, at least a dozen of the accused have been hired, funded, and reinstated.

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The allegations aren’t the same in each case, and the men now reviving their careers reacted to their public censure in different ways. But as they and others resurface in professional life, it opens a new phase of the #MeToo movement. There wasn’t a precedent for the outpouring of accusations that targeted more than 425 men in 2018, and there’s no precedent for what comes next — not for women who suffered inappropriate advances nor for men who made them.

“We don’t have the common formula for, ‘You did something bad. You have to do this to make it up to us. You make it up to us. The slate is clean. Let’s move on,’” said Kabrina Chang, who teaches classes on ethics at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. “This is coupled with the fact that we’re looking at sort of a public awakening of hundreds of years of sexual harassment and repression of women.”

After accusations of Lasseter’s inappropriate behavior surfaced at Pixar, the executive sent a memo to Walt Disney Co. employees in which he apologized for unwanted hugs or other offensive gestures. He apologized again for his behavior shortly after assuming his post at Skydance. David Ellison, son of Oracle founder Larry Ellison and founder of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Skydance Media, said that it had hired a legal team to investigate the accusations against Lasseter and that his “mistakes have been recognized.”

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That didn’t convince many female animators, who grumbled that it was too soon. Marge Dean, the president of Women in Animation, expressed her “shock and distress” in an open letter on the group’s Facebook page, and Mirielle Soria, who runs Paramount Pictures’ animation division, told her employees they didn’t have to work with Lasseter. With decades of Hollywood success, actor Emma Thompson pulled out of a film she was making with Skydance in protest of Lasseter’s hiring.

“I am well aware that centuries of entitlement to women’s bodies whether they like it or not is not going to change overnight. Or in a year,” Thompson wrote in her letter of resignation, which was published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times. “But I am also aware that if people who have spoken out — like me — do not take this sort of a stand then things are very unlikely to change at anything like the pace required to protect my daughter’s generation.”

Similarly, women who have accused architect Meier of a pattern of harassment have been incensed by reports that he’s returned to his firm after a six-month leave; day-to-day operations are still in the hands of Bernhard Karpf, a top lieutenant, and other principals.

“Obviously, it’s not the toxic thing we thought it would be,” Karpf said recently.

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Stella Lee, who said Meier exposed himself to her when she went to work at his home in the early 2000s, took offense at Karpf’s comment.

“For one of the partners to come forward and say this is last year’s news and we’re moving forward, it is negating and dismissive and insensitive,” she said. “To erase it, to sweep it under the rug, is not the right response.”

“We have taken and continue to take this matter very seriously,” said a spokesman for Richard Meier & Partners, noting that the office has new management, new policies, and more women in senior roles.

The right response isn’t always clear. Some of the alleged offenders — Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey — are facing criminal charges. (Both Weinstein and Spacey have pleaded not guilty.) But very few of the accusations aired over the last year have been resolved by any formal or public process, and many are years or decades old.

Intel’s Krzanich was fired for having a consensual relationship with a junior employee — generally recognized as a bad decision but not evidence of a pattern of creepy or criminal behavior. When he was hired at CDK, the company cited his “exceptional track record” and said he had the board’s full confidence.

The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which offers financial support for women who want to take their harassers to court, encourages accused executives to pursue a path of full apology, demonstrated rehabilitation, and restitution for the victims.

“I’ve seen stories about a number of people ready to come back but very little about what they’re doing to repair the harm they caused,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, which administers the Time’s Up fund. “What you’ve seen instead is a lot of equivocating about whether or not they had done anything important at all.”

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Corporate boards need to ensure they are dealing with the individual harassers and the women they harassed, Goss Graves said, as well as the culture that enabled the harassment in the first place. Whatever the process, the board needs to be transparent about what changes are being made. Companies should expect to pay reparations, either to individuals identified or to fund broader campaigns to stop the unacceptable behavior.