February 12, 2018 at 4:07 AM
New York’s attorney general on Sunday filed a civil rights lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein and his film company, accusing the disgraced Hollywood mogul of repeatedly sexually harassing, intimidating and demeaning female employees and perpetrating a hostile work environment.
Weinstein’s “vicious and exploitative” treatment of employees, coupled with the company’s failure to protect them, presented “egregious violations of New York’s civil rights, human rights, and business laws,” according to the lawsuit, which also names Weinstein’s brother and the studio’s co-founder, Bob.
The lawsuit, announced by state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, appeared to throw a wrench into a deal to sell the Weinstein Co. to Maria Contreras-Sweet, who led the Small Business Administration under President Barack Obama. Negotiations for the $500 million deal halted Sunday, people familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, making it likely that the debt-ridden studio will be forced to file bankruptcy.
Sunday’s lawsuit, filed in New York County Supreme Court, relied on interviews with numerous Weinstein employees, executives and accusers, as well as a trove of company records and emails. The investigation into the Weinstein Co. detailed “a years-long gender-based hostile work environment, a pattern of quid pro quo sexual harassment, and routine misuse of corporate resources for unlawful ends” that extended from about 2005 through October 2017.
Weinstein’s “assistants were exposed to and required to facilitate” his “sex life as a condition of employment,” it alleged.
Weinstein required executive assistants to arrange his sexual encounters, even directing them to “essentially badger women who refused or expressed reluctance,” according to the lawsuit. One group of these assistants kept copies of a document known as the “Bible” detailing a list of Weinstein’s “friends” and instructions on arranging his “personals,” or sexual encounters. Drivers for Weinstein in New York City and Los Angeles were required to keep condoms and erectile dysfunction injections in the car at all times, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, Weinstein subjected several employees to threats such as “I will kill you, I will kill your family” and “you don’t know what I can do.” He allegedly made offers or demands of sexual favors in exchange for career advancement at the company.
The lawsuit alleges that the company funded and facilitated encounters during which Weinstein “engaged in unlawful sexual conduct with numerous women.”
Weinstein, said a news release announcing the suit, “exposed himself to a female employee and made her take dictation from him while he leered at her, naked on his bed. That same employee described how HW would insist that she sit next to him in the back seat of his chauffeured vehicle and would place his hand on her upper thigh and buttocks near her genitalia and rub her body without her consent. When she attempted to place bags or other barriers between them to make it harder for him to reach her, he moved the barriers or repositioned himself so that the unwelcome sexual contact could continue.”
It also paints a portrait of a human resources and management staff that repeatedly allowed Weinstein to go unpunished. None of the “voluminous complaints” filed with the company’s human resources led to a formal investigation, restrictions to Weinstein’s behavior or employment consequences, the lawsuit says. Instead, human resources staff would immediately inform Weinstein of a complaint and helped facilitate retaliation by him or a swift departure of the complainant from the company, the lawsuit alleges.
Moreover, Weinstein’s employment contract allowed him to continue engaging in sexual harassment and misconduct with impunity, as long as he paid the costs of any settlements, according to the lawsuit.
Schneiderman filed the lawsuit in part to intervene in the company’s imminent sale, his office said in a statement. Schneiderman said he believed the terms of the sale would “leave victims without adequate redress” and allow Weinstein’s enablers or perpetrators to benefit financially or take on leadership positions in the new entity.
“Any sale of The Weinstein Company must ensure that victims will be compensated, employees will be protected going forward, and that neither perpetrators nor enablers will be unjustly enriched,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
The Weinstein Co. board, which includes Bob Weinstein, issued a statement Sunday to the Journal and the Hollywood Reporter, saying it is “disappointed that the New York Attorney General felt it necessary to file today’s complaint.”
“Many of the allegations relating to the board are inaccurate and the board looks forward to bringing the facts to light as part of its ongoing commitment to resolve this difficult situation in the most appropriate way,” the board stated.
The 38-page lawsuit was the result of a four-month civil rights investigation by Schneiderman’s office that began after reports emerged in the New York Times and the New Yorker detailing decades of sexual abuse allegations. In the time since, more than 70 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including rape. Police reports against Weinstein have been filed in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, New York and London.
Weinstein was fired by the film company on Oct. 8 and a few days later expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars. The scandal surrounding the mogul created a ripple effect across a multitude of industries, prompting women to share accounts of inappropriate behavior in the workplace and causing dozens of powerful men to lose their jobs.
Weinstein has repeatedly denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex. His attorney, Ben Brafman, released a statement Sunday evening saying many of the allegations against his client are “without merit,” according to the Associated Press.
“While Mr. Weinstein’s behavior was not without fault, there certainly was no criminality, and at the end of the inquiry it will be clear that Harvey Weinstein promoted more women to key executive positions than any other industry leader and there was zero discrimination at either Miramax or TWC,” Brafman said in the statement.
The Weinstein brothers founded the Miramax studio in 1979 and sold the company in 1993. After leaving Miramax, the brothers founded the Weinstein Co. in 2005. The studio distributed many successful films, including “The King’s Speech,” “The Iron Lady,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained.”
“If the purpose of the inquiry is to encourage reform throughout the film industry, Mr. Weinstein will embrace the investigation,” Brafman added, according to Reuters. “If the purpose however is to scapegoat Mr. Weinstein, he will vigorously defend himself.”
Contreras-Sweet first submitted a bid to acquire the Weinstein Co. in November. She proposed retaining the company’s employees and installing a majority-female board of directors, with Contreras-Sweet as chairman.
But according to the lawsuit, the attorney general opposes Contreras-Sweet’s plan to make the studio’s chief operating officer, David Glasser, the head of the company. Under this imminent sale, the lawsuit said, employees “would be reporting to some of the same managers . . . who failed to investigate (Harvey Weinstein’s) ongoing misconduct or adequately protect female employees” from him.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Schneiderman’s office has also demanded oversight over the company as part of the purchase deal, a demand that Contreras-Sweet was hesitant to accept.
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