N.Y. Attorney General Files Suit Against Weinstein Co. for "Egregious" Violations
The lawsuit alleges company executives repeatedly failed to protect employees from Harvey Weinstein's "unrelenting sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination."
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office has filed a lawsuit against The Weinstein Co. alleging the company violated numerous New York civil rights, human rights and business laws. The suit is the result of an ongoing four-month investigation by the AG's office.
The 38-page action was lodged Sunday afternoon against Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein and TWC, and is based on numerous interviews with former TWC staffers.
The suit paints a damning portrait in alleging that Harvey Weinstein ran roughshod over his employees as he pursued his sexual conquests. The AG's office alleges any enforcement by the human resources department at TWC was virtually non-existent, and that Bob Weinstein, Harvey's brother, and the board were complicit.
The suit claims TWC engaged in "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 in or about 2005 through at least in or about October 2017." It further claims that Harvey Weinstein personally would refer to female and male employees as "pussy" or "c—" when angry with their performance.
On one occasion in 2015, the suit alleges that Weinstein appeared naked under a bathrobe when summoning a female executive to his hotel room and requesting a massage. When the employee said no, "HW cajoled, badgered, and insisted until she relented and, against her wishes, submitted to massaging him out of fear of employment-based retaliation by HW. The incident was reported to Human Resources and to executives and board members of the company in November 2015, but TWC took no action to formally investigate the complaint, to protect employees from HW, or to prevent future recurrence of such conduct," according to the lawsuit.
And in 2014 and 2015, Weinstein allegedly exposed himself to another female employee and made her take dictation from him "while he leered at her, naked on his bed," the lawsuit continues. He also touched the same employee "on her upper thigh and buttocks near her genitalia and rub her body without her consent" during various rides in his chauffeured vehicle, according to the suit.
Weinstein, responding via a statement from his attorney Ben Brafman, said many of the allegations are without merit. "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," said the statement. "If the purpose of the inquiry is to encourage reform throughout the film industry, Mr. Weinstein will embrace the investigation. If the purpose however is to scapegoat Mr. Weinstein, he will vigorously defend himself."
In detailing Weinstein's alleged sexual exploits, the suit describes a culture in which one group of female employees, known as "wing women," had the primary job of accompanying Weinstein to events where they were expected to facilitate his sexual conquests; a second group of predominantly female assistants were required to take various steps to facilitate his sexual activity, including maintaining space on his calendar; and a third group, while their primary job was film or TV production, were required to meet with Weinstein's prospective victims.
The suit alleges that Weinstein's assistant scheduled what were known as "personals" on the mogul's calendar, which is when his sexual activity took place. It says that assistants also possessed copies of what was known as the "Bible," which included instructions on how to arrange Weintein's "personals." Additionally, it says Weinstein's drivers were required to keep condoms and erectile dysfunction injections in the cars that he used at all times.
According to the suit, company executives repeatedly failed to protect employees from Weinstein's unrelenting sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination. Weinstein was fired from the company he co-founded with his brother last fall, but remains a shareholder.
The AG office's investigation also found that when complaints were raised, they were not handled by TWC's human resources department or by other members of TWC's senior management. It alleges complaints were not treated confidentially, citing a case in which the human resources department forwarded a complaint directly to Weinstein. And it alleges that Bob Weinstein, instead of ensuring a safe working environment, knew of and permitted his brother's behavior.
The also suit alleges that Harvey Weinstein prevented independent members of the board from accessing his personal files, and that his most recent contract extension "effectively monetized, rather than prohibited, ongoing acts of sexual harassment and misconduct." Specifically, it states that if TWC had to make any payments for Weinstein's violations of the company's code of conduct, he would face penalties of $250,000 for the first incident, $500,000 for the second, $750,000 for the third and $1 million for each subsequent incident. But it also said if he personally covered the costs of any payments, there would be no penalties. And it didn't set out any employment consequence for such payments, whether Weinstein handled them personally or faced the penalties.
“As alleged in our complaint, The Weinstein Company repeatedly broke New York law by failing to protect its employees from pervasive sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination,” said Schneiderman in a statement. “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. Every New Yorker has a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment, intimidation and fear.”
Sources say the AG lawyers have been interviewing former TWC employees in recent weeks and the AG's office said the investigation is ongoing. It brought the suit on Sunday because of the violations uncovered so far and because of the imminent sale of the company.
The sale of TWC to an investor group led by Maria Contreras-Sweet, which was expected to wrap up Sunday, has stalled as a result of the AG's action and could now be permanently shelved. As part of the deal, a $50 million fund was to be created to handle any claims against TWC not covered by insurance. The AG's office said that the proposed terms of the deal would allow the perpetrators and their enablers to receive a windfall and did not set aside enough money to ensure victims would be sufficiently compensated.
In a separate statement Sunday evening, the TWC board, which includes Bob Weinstein, issued its own statement. "We are 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," it said.
Continuing, the board denied the suggestion it told Contreras-Sweet not to communicate with the AG's office: "With respect to the company’s ongoing sale process, the board sought a transaction to preserve jobs and create a victim fund. Any suggestion that the Company or its Board somehow impeded or discouraged the buyer’s access to the New York Attorney General is simply untrue. Indeed, the company and its board actively encouraged the buyer to communicate with the Attorney General. The company looks forward to continuing our discussions with the Attorney General in order to reach our common goal of bringing this situation to an appropriate resolution."
The suit calls for civil penalties of $500 to $250,000 for each violation of law be paid to the state of New York; restitution and damages be paid to the victims; freeing women from any NDAs they have signed; and prohibits any business deals that that would allow the Weinsteins to evade compliance.
Feb. 11, 4:30 p.m. Updated with a statement from Harvey Weinstein's attorney.
Feb. 11, 8 p.m. Updated with a statement from TWC board.