Harvey Weinstein and his former film production company are facing a class-action lawsuit from six women, who are seeking to represent “hundreds” of other women allegedly victimized by the disgraced movie producer.
The proposed class action comes as Weinstein is facing numerous criminal investigations across the globe following accusations of sexual assault, rape, harassment and misconduct from dozens of women. The named plaintiffs in the suit include Zoë Brock, a model who shared her story and alleged that she had to lock herself in a hotel bathroom to escape Weinstein’s advances when she was 23.
“We are but six women representing hundreds. Dozens have come forward so far, and many more remain in the shadows, still trying to find their courage,” the plaintiffs said in a statement. “But we will, if we can transform our horror stories into a cultural shift.”
The lawsuit alleged that Weinstein was aided by “complicit producers” along with other firms and individuals who helped “facilitate and conceal his pattern of unwanted sexual conduct”. The companies and people who enabled Weinstein’s behavior, which has been described as an open secret in Hollywood, were part of an enterprise that violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Rico), according to the complaint. The law has been used to target the mafia for organized criminal behavior.
The complaint follows multiple stories that have accused Weinstein of assaulting and harassing high-profile actors and others in the industry, and suggest he went to great lengths to try to silence the women, including deploying an “army of spies”.
The scandal has inspired women in entertainment, media and a number of industries to come forward with stories of sexual abuse under the banner of the #MeToo movement, which was recognized as Time magazine’s Person of the Yearon Wednesday.
Representatives for the film producer and the Weinstein Company, which fired the co-founder after the first allegations surfaced, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Through his spokespeople, Weinstein has previously apologized for his behavior, but said he denies many of the sexual harassment allegations. He has also repeatedly said that he “unequivocally” denies allegations of “non-consensual sex” and claimed he never retaliated against women who refused his advances.
Police in New York, however, recently said a 2010 rape allegation from actor Paz de la Huerta was “credible”. The new suit accused Weinstein and his associates of a “long-running practice of isolating and blacklisting Weinstein’s victims”.
The 104-page complaint also named his former company Miramax, the producer’s brother Bob Weinstein and a number of current and former Weinstein Company board members. The suit further alleged that James Dolan, the owner of the New York Knicks who sat on the board in 2015 and 2016, “knew of Weinstein’s pattern and practice of predatory sexual conduct toward women from his personal relationship with Weinstein and his position as a director of [the Weinstein Company]”.
A spokeswoman for Dolan said on Wednesday afternoon that attorneys were still reviewing the complaint, adding: “Mr Dolan is confident that he acted appropriately in all matters relating to his time on the Weinstein board.”
The suit is seeking to represent a class of women who faced “unwanted sexual conduct that took many forms”, including “flashing, groping, fondling, harassing, battering, false imprisonment, sexual assault, attempted rape and/or completed rape”.
Actor Katherine Kendall, one of the plaintiffs, alleged that when she was 23 years old, “Weinstein imprisoned her in his apartment, threatened and assaulted her”. Louisette Geiss also alleged that Weinstein assaulted and threatened her when she meet with Weinstein to pitch him a script.
Another plaintiff, Sarah Ann Thomas, alleged that Weinstein Company employees arranged for her to interview with Weinstein at his home and that he conducted the interview in his underwear, “embraced Thomas in a sexual manner, and did not give her the job when she did not take him up on his sexual propositions”.
Melissa Sagemiller alleged that Weinstein “imprisoned” her in his hotel room and later on an airplane, and threatened to assault her. The suit said she was meeting with Weinstein to discuss changes to a script for a movie that Miramax was distributing. Plaintiff Nannette Klatt alleged that she was assaulted by Weinstein during an audition for a part in a Miramax production.
“Weinstein told Klatt that if she refused his advances and his requests, he would ruin her, and he ultimately withdrew the offer he had given her for a part because she would not accede to his advances.”
The latest New York Times investigation, published on Tuesday, detailed claims of Weinstein’s “complicity machine”, alleging that the producer covered up sexual misconduct accusations for decades by relying on powerful relationships across industries.
In response, Weinstein’s representatives released a statement asserting that “no legal wrongdoing occurred”, saying: “Mr Weinstein has never at any time committed an act of sexual assault, and it is wrong and irresponsible to conflate claims of impolitic behavior or consensual sexual contact later regretted, with an untrue claim of criminal conduct.”
The statement added: “Nonetheless, to those offended by Mr Weinstein’s behavior, he remains deeply apologetic.”
A joint statement from the six plaintiffs said, “If this is happening in Hollywood, it is happening at the hospital, the supermarket, the accountant’s office, the mechanic’s garage, the school … everywhere,” adding, “We hope this case sends a message to all companies sheltering abusers and their secrets: the tide has turned.”