New York attorney general sues Weinstein

Bloomberg

Tue, Feb 13, 2018 - Page 6

Embattled movie producer Harvey Weinstein was sued by New York state for creating a hostile work environment at the Weinstein Co that allegedly featured “pervasive sexual harassment,” intimidation and discrimination.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s lawsuit comes as Weinstein, 65, is seeking to sell his troubled studio to Maria Contreras-Sweet, a former Obama administration official, in a US$500 million bid backed by billionaire Ron Burkle. The suit may create a major obstacle for the deal.

Schneiderman said in a statement that the company’s sale might leave victims “without adequate redress, including a lack of a sufficient victims compensation fund.”

While the suit is not aimed at blocking the sale to Contreras-Sweet’s group, the attorney general said he wants to make certain that victims are not harmed by the transaction.

“Any sale of the Weinstein Co 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.

Weinstein, who faces a wave of sexual-assault claims stretching back to the 1970s, was ousted from his studio in October last year after the New York Times and the New Yorker magazine published accounts in which women accused him of sexual harassment and rape. He has denied any non-consensual sexual activity.

A string of actresses have come forward to accuse the producer of sexually harassing or raping them in exchange for career help. Actress Dominique Huett claimed Weinstein masturbated in front of her and performed oral sex on her in 2010. She sued his studio for US$5 million.

Actress Uma Thurman, who starred in some of Weinstein’s hit movies, such as the Kill Bill trilogy, also has accused the producer of attempting to sexually assault her in London in 1994.

“We believe that a fair investigation by Mr Schneiderman will demonstrate that many of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein are without merit,” his lawyer, Ben Brafman, said in a statement. “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.”

Weinstein will “vigorously defend himself” if Schneiderman seeks to “scapegoat” him, Brafman added.

The studio said in a statement that its board is disappointed with the lawsuit as many of the allegations were inaccurate.

There is no truth to any suggestion that the studio impeded its suitor’s access to the state’s attorney general and the company looks forward to bring the situation to an appropriate resolution, according to the statement.

In the suit filed on Sunday, Schneiderman seeks steep financial penalties from Weinstein, his brother and company cofounder Robert Weinstein, and the New York-based firm itself; victim restitution; and a court order that would invalidate non-disclosure agreements signed by women who had contact with the producer.

The attorney general is also demanding “judicial or other supervision” that will ensure the studio complies with terms of a settlement, and he wants to block any transaction that would strip his office from having legal authority over the company, according to the complaint filed in New York Supreme Court.