How the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund Supported Two Brave Survivors in Their Pursuit of Justice

Content warning: This blog post includes descriptions of sexual harassment and discusses sexual assault at length. 

NWLC’s TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund and Legal Network for Gender Equity support individuals facing sex harassment and other sex discrimination—which, in many cases, includes survivors of sexual violence. 

Every case we take on starts the same way: 

A brave individual contacting our office and sharing vulnerable details about their experiences with us—in the hopes of getting help, or at the very least, being heard. 

We are in awe of these survivors, and today, we’d like to share two of their stories, including the small role we played in helping them pursue justice.  

Family-Run Restaurant Becomes a Haven for Sexual Abuse 

Nicole Chase kept a photo of her six-year-old daughter at work.  

A 27-year-old single mother, Nicole’s job—at Nodine’s Restaurant in Canton, Connecticut—was very important to her: “I had no savings. I didn’t even have a bank account, I didn’t have credit cards, I had nothing.” 

While this tiny spot on the side of the road (complete with kitschy décor, wood paneling, and plaid curtains) was passing itself off as a family-friendly establishment, in reality, it was anything but. 

The owner, Calvin, was well-known for telling “dirty jokes about women,” and sexually harassing his employees: at one point, “dropping his eyeglasses and then telling his female employees to pick them up.”   

Soon after Nicole was hired, Calvin began to sexually harass her—which is horrific and unacceptable within itself. And then one afternoon, Calvin trapped Nicole in the bathroom and sexually assaulted her.  

The morning after the assault, Nicole reported this crime to police, but (because of our toxic, victim-blaming culture) felt too ashamed to include every detail: “I just don’t want my boyfriend to know, and I don’t want people to ask me why I did it when I didn’t want to do it, but I was just so scared.” 

That same morning, Nicole returned to work—worried she would otherwise lose her job, and hoping Calvin didn’t remember assaulting her, so that she could “at least feel halfway normal.” But he remembered; and he tried to lure Nicole into a small closet to assault her again. By the end of her shift, Nicole decided she was never coming back.  

And she took the photo of her daughter home with her.  

In a later report to police, Nicole updated her account to include all of its details; but rather than bring charges against Calvin, the police arrested Nicole for having made a “false statement” earlier. In other words, Nicole went “from victim to suspect.” And while Nicole—the victim—was now under intense investigation, the detective’s questioning of Calvin—the perpetrator—involved asking Calvin’s attorney about golf and chatting about people they both know.  

At one point, the detective even tells Calvin: “If you were fooling around with Nikki consensually, that’s a whole different story,suggesting that Calvin might “get out” of the situation if he instead described it as consensual sex. 

For these egregious actions and so many others, Lewis Chimes, a member of our Legal Network for Gender Equity, a nationwide network of anti-discrimination attorneys, represented Nicole in a civil lawsuit against the Canton police department, with monetary support from our TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund.  

On October 4, 2021, and after a long legal battle, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit allowed all of Nicole’s claims to move forward at the trial level—eventually leading to a settlement in her case. 

Assaulted On the Road—and Forced to Keep Driving 

Laura Zuniga wanted to buy a house where her three daughters—ages 14, 12, and 10—could each have their own room and a yard. But her $11-an-hour job at a laundromat came nowhere close to helping her fulfill that dream.  

Then, Laura began to notice that some of her male customersthe ones who were professional truck drivershad really nice cars; and they would often tell her about their nice houses, too. So, Laura, despite knowing nothing about trucking, decided she could and would do the same: train for and become a truck driver.   

From one week of driving, Laura was able to earn $1,800-$1,900. And at certain points, she found herself enjoying the job:   

“Every time I get in the truck, I’m confident, I feel happy.  

It feels good to work and have money.”  

But in October 2020, when Laura was picking up a new load in Fresno, California, her company, Eagle Trucklines, Inc., assigned her a new male co-driver.   

Once they were on the road, the other driver began sexually harassing Laura, eventually removing all of his clothing except for his underwear. He asked Laura if she “liked sex” and told her he wanted to “pay her for sex.” When Laura responded that she wasn’t a sex worker, he claimed that he had just been “joking.”  

But when Laura pulled over to take a nap, this other driver sexually assaulted her.   

Following the assault, Laura called her dispatcher in tears—only to be told that she shouldn’t call the police, to just keep driving, so she did.” But “when her co-driver kept coming to the front and patting her on the head,” Laura called 911—which angered her dispatcher, who was only concerned with the load getting to its final destination, and not Laura’s safety.  

By the time the police finally showed up, the rapist had fled on foot. And instead of being allowed to go home, in the wake of this trauma, Laura was forced to drive her truck all the way to Arizona, alone—a drive that Eagle Trucklines never compensated her for. In the days and months that followed, this trucking company stopped calling Laura to work altogether, while her abuser was allowed to keep driving:  

“The way the company treated me, I felt worthless.”  

With monetary support from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, Laura and her attorneys at Legal Aid at Work, including Nora Cassidy and alongside co-counsel from Lang, Richert & Patch, filed a lawsuit against Eagle Trucklines and the other trucker “alleging sexual and racial harassment and discrimination as well as sexual battery, wrongful termination, and a failure to pay her what she was owed.” In March 2023, Laura settled the case. However, Laura and her team are still working to enforce the agreement against Eagle Trucklines. 

Yes, you could call that settlement—and the one in Nicole’s case—a “victory.”  

But Nicole and Laura’s cases have been going on for years. Throughout this emotionally and financially draining process, they were harassed, doubted, and retraumatized. No one should have to go through so much pain to attain what will always be insufficient justice—and no one should have to go through devastating sexual abuse in the first place.  

When survivors like Nicole and Laura reach out to us, we have noticed one phrase that is repeated by nearly every individual:  

I wish you knew me before this happened.   

Before, when Laura was “always a happy person.”  

Before Laura lost hair, started having nightmares, and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.  

“I haven’t been the same. I wish I had a button in my head I could just delete that.”   

That is what the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is fighting for: A better, before world, where people can feel safe and fulfilled at work without the burdens of sexual harassment and retaliation. In the meantime, we will keep supporting Nicole, Laura, and all survivors in their pursuit of justice.