A French appeals court has overturned the defamation conviction of the woman behind France’s answer to the #MeToo movement, who was sued by the man she accused of sexual harassment.
Sandra Muller, a French journalist, coined the viral hashtag balancetonporc (“expose your pig”) to describe TV executive Eric Brion.
In September 2019 she was ordered to pay €15,000 (£12,775) in damages to Brion, whom she accused on Twitter of making sexually lewd remarks at a party. The trial court ruled she had provided no proof of her claims of sexual harassment.
Brion had admitted to making inappropriate remarks but claimed he had later apologised in a text message. His lawyers argued that the remarks did not constitute harassment, which under French law must involve repeated or “serious” pressure.
But the Paris court of appeal overturned the verdict on Wednesday, ruling that “even if Eric Brion suffered by being the first man denounced under balancetonporc, Sandra Muller should be recognised as having acted in good faith”.
Muller’s lawyer Jade Dousselon hailed the verdict as a historic win for victims of sexual harassment and a huge relief for her client.
“The appeals court is saying to the victims, to all those who spoke out, to all those who spoke the truth, that those people will not be convicted,” Dousselon said.
Muller made the claim against Brion on 13 October 2017 at the height of the MeToo movement, which began in the US over the rape and abuse allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein.
She launched the hashtag balancetonporc as a call for French women to name and shame abusers and then shared her own account in a later tweet.
She accused Brion of humiliating her at a function in Cannes in 2012, telling her: “You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night.”
She ended the post with the hashtag balancetonporc.
Brion, the former head of TV channel Equidia, acknowledged making inappropriate remarks but said he had apologised by text message the day after. He argued that Muller’s post wrongly portrayed him as a sex offender and that the publicity around the incident had ruined his career.
“It was a heavy come-on, it was ugly but that does not mean he deserves to be pilloried with the title of workplace sex harasser,” his lawyer Nicolas Benoit had argued.
Muller, who denies having received an apology from Brion at the time, said her initial conviction sent 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.