The vast majority of Time’s Up’s remaining staffers were laid off Friday in what they described as a debacle that began with leaders revealing they gave the news to the Washington Post first and ended with board member Ashley Judd breaking down in tears.
The embattled organization, limping since its CEO and entire board resigned this summer, announced Friday that it would lay off the vast majority of its remaining staff. Leadership informed staff of the decision in a virtual meeting that started 15 minutes before the Post article made the pink slips national news.
“They said on the call, ‘The Washington Post is releasing a piece right now,’” said Stacey Ferguson, Time’s Up’s digital director. “Some staff members were like, ‘Oh my god, my mom is going to read about it before I can tell her.’”
“To paraphrase what a colleague shared on the call: For an organization that’s supposed to be advocating for fair and dignified workplaces, this feels like the opposite of that,” Ferguson added.
In a statement, the board called the layoffs a “major reset” needed to right the ship after the events of the last year. Multiple outlets reported over the summer that the leaders of Time’s Up—which was created in response to the #MeToo movement—had counseled then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on how to respond to sexual harassment allegations against him and had disparaged his accuser in text messages.
Both CEO Tina Tchen and board chair Roberta Kaplan stepped down in August, naming former CFO Monifa Bandele the interim CEO and starting the process of hiring consultant Leilani Brown to conduct an independent review. Brown’s report, which was also released Friday, found a lack of discipline, loss of trust, and “outsized expectations without a stable foundation to grow on.”
In a statement announcing the layoffs and the results of the report, Board Chair Gabrielle Sulzberger called them “a needed reset, not a retreat.”
“TIME’S UP stands for accountability and systematic change in the workplace,” she said. “It is incumbent on us to learn from these findings, and focus on building an organization that powerfully serves women of all kinds and ends the impunity of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.”
Staffers who spoke to The Daily Beast said they were confused why this “reset” required all of the on-the-ground staff to be laid off, while three of the organization’s highest-ranking members—its chief financial officer, chief development officer, and head of entertainment—would stay on in order to “rebuild.”
“Most of us weren’t in the leadership team when the Cuomo stuff happened, yet we’re the ones being punished for past actions of the organization,” said one employee, who asked to remain anonymous.
“Yet again, Time’s Up is putting the interests of the organization over its own staff members,” she added. “We’ve obviously become collateral damage in all of this.”
Staffers said they learned their fates in a 1 p.m. Zoom call led primarily by Sulzberger and fellow board member Judd. The two fielded questions about why the Washington Post had been told about the decision before staff members, and why employees would receive only two months’ severance during a global pandemic—something one staffer described to The Daily Beast as “a slap in the face.” (A Time’s Up spokesperson told The Daily Beast the severance package as “generous” for a small nonprofit.)
At one point, one staffer said, Judd began to cry, saying she was “broken-hearted” about the news.
“Mind you, she’s already put out a statement [to the Washington Post] with information that staff didn’t have access to,” the staffer said. “So keep your fucking crocodile tears.”
The Time’s Up spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the organization decided to work with the Post because the paper had already obtained some details of the report, and they wanted to ensure the resulting article painted a full picture. He added that the layoffs were necessary to ensure that the organization’s work on behalf of survivors could continue, but declined to say when its programmatic work—which will be paused Jan. 1 when the current staffers depart—will resume.
The Daily Beast previously reported on the fractures within the organization, which launched to great fanfare in 2018. Staffers at the time described an organization that was more committed to its wealthy and powerful backers than it was to survivors, and that embraced a stifling, top-down leadership style. Employees claimed they had been forced to remove photos of Cuomo critics from their website and tweet laudatory things about his office’s work; others said they were forced to drop everything and launch a petition in support of Gayle King when the celebrity was being harassed online. One survivor whom the group had initially supported asked to remove her name from a Daily Beast article in April, after a Time’s Up executive lashed out at her for participating.
Ferguson, who has been with the organization a little over a year, said she stayed on staff despite these negative reports because she believed the organization could change. But even before the layoffs were announced, she said, she had already lost that hope.
“Imagine coming to work every day and wanting to do the right things—the good things—but you are prevented by the red tape, and the culture, and this weird, super heavy, top-down way of leading,” she said.
“The 25 people on staff are amazing, and the 12 people who resigned since I started a year ago are amazing, and that is the crying shame,” she added.
A fellow employee described Friday’s layoffs as a “failure” to the staff and the movement as a whole.
Asked what she would tell the organization’s leadership, she said: “I would make it very, very clear that they should be ashamed of themselves, that this is an embarrassment and a besmirchment of everything this movement is for. And I would love to know how they can sleep at night keeping their employees in the dark.”