French #MeToo founder wins “historic” defamatory appeal

The French appeals board on Wednesday lifted the defamation quota for the woman behind France’s response to the #MeToo movement, which was sued by the man she accused of sexual harassment, lawyers told AFP.

Sandra Muller, a French journalist, coined the viral hashtag #balancetonporc (“expose your pig”) to describe TV director Eric Brion.

In September 2019, she was ordered to pay 15,000 euros ($ 17,600) in damages to Brion, whom she accused on Twitter of making sexually nasty comments at a party.

The trial court ruled that she had not provided any evidence for her allegations of sexual harassment.

Brion had admitted to making inappropriate comments but claimed that he had later apologized in a text message. His lawyers argued that the remarks did not constitute harassment, which according to French law must mean repeated or “serious” pressure.

But the Paris Board of Appeal overturned the verdict on Wednesday, ruling that “even if Eric Brion suffered from being the first man convicted under #balancetonporc, Sandra Muller would be recognized as acting in good faith.”

Muller’s lawyer Jade Dousselon hailed the verdict as a “historic” gain for victims of sexual harassment and a “huge relief” for his client.

“The Board of Appeal tells the victims, all those who spoke, all those who spoke the truth, that these people will not be convicted,” Dousselon said.

Muller made a claim on Brion on October 13, 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, which began in the United States due to rape and abuse allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein.

She launched the hashtag #balancetonporc as an invitation to French women to name and shame abuses and then shared her own account in a later tweet.

She accused Brion of humiliating her at a function in the city of Cannes in 2012 and told her: “You have big breasts. You’re my type of woman. I’m going to have you orgasm all night.

She ended the post with the hashtag #balancetonporc.

Brion, the former head of the TV channel Equidia, admitted that he made inappropriate comments but said that he had apologized with a text message the next day.

But he claimed that Muller’s post incorrectly portrayed him as a sex offender and that publicity surrounding the incident had ruined his career.

“It was a heavy blow, it was ugly but that does not mean he deserves to be crushed with the title of sex harassment in the workplace,” his lawyer Nicolas Benoit had claimed.

Muller, who denies having received an apology from Brion at the time, threw away her original conviction that she was sending a message that women should “shut up” about sexual harassment and abuse.

She also revealed that her own career had also suffered from being associated with #balancetonporc but said she had no regrets about speaking out.