Unless you have avoided all major news outlets during the past several months, you are no doubt aware of the legal firestorm engulfing The Weinstein Company (TWC), the New York-based independent film studio. Harvey Weinstein, TWC's co-founder and former co-CEO, was forced out of his management role in the wake of an October 2017 New York Times report that presented accusations from dozens of victims who said that Weinstein sexually harassed and/or assaulted them. Weinstein is reportedly under criminal investigation by a number of entities, including the New York County District Attorney's office, over these allegations.
A “Work Environment Permeated With Gender-Based Hostility and Inequality
Independent of any potential criminal liability, Weinstein and TWC are now facing a civil rights lawsuit filed by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. The Office of the Attorney General announced the lawsuit on February 11 following a four-month investigation that reportedly uncovered additional cases of "egregious” sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein, as well as efforts by TWC to cover up these acts. The lawsuit itself was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court and names as defendants TWC, its parent company, Harvey Weinstein, and his brother and former co-CEO Robert (Bob) Weinstein.
At its core the lawsuit alleges Harvey Weinstein “personally created and perpetuated a work environment permeated with gender-based hostility and inequality” in violation of New York employment discrimination laws, as well as criminal statutes forbidding forcible touching, sexual abuse, and coercion. The Attorney General breaks down the allegations as follows:
- Harvey Weinstein created a hostile work environment for women. He “regularly berated women using gender-based obscenities.” He also “used his stature and threatening statements on numerous occasions to demean and frighten female employees.” In multiple instances, the lawsuit says Weinstein threatened to murder female employees and their families.
- Harvey Weinstein “made quid pro quo offers or demands of sexual favors in exchange for career advancement at TWC, or to avoid adverse employment consequences.” For example, the Attorney General cited one case where Weinstein told a female intern at TWC “that he wanted a sexual relationship and proceeded to name famous actresses whose careers he purportedly had advanced after they agreed to his proposition.”
- Harvey Weinstein used other employees and resources of TWC to “facilitate” his sex life “as a condition of employment.” In particular, the Attorney General said Weinstein “employed a team of up to five assistance at any given time” who were used to arrange and manage his “sexual encounters.” Weinstein also used TWC funds to pay for “office space and for the hotel rooms” to conduct these encounters.
- Finally, the Attorney General alleges that other “[k]ey members of TWC management were fully aware of [Harvey Weinstein's] creation of a hostile work environment and his sexual harassment of others, yet they did not take reasonable steps to investigate or stop it, or to protect TWC employees from ongoing victimization.” The lawsuit maintains human resources officials at TWC ignored the company's internal employment policies and failed to investigate any of the complaints made against Harvey Weinstein over the years.
We Help Victims of Workplace Sexual Harassment
In announcing his lawsuit, Attorney General Schneiderman said one of his goals was to “ensure that victims will be compensated” for Weinstein's actions in the event of a likely sale of TWC. Based on the allegations reported in this case, there will be a great number of women entitled to such compensation.
While the Weinstein lawsuit represents one of the more extreme cases of sexual harassment, many other New Yorkers continue to suffer in lower-profile but equally hostile work environments. If you are one of these victims, do not continue to suffer in silence. Contact the New York employment law attorneys at White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, to schedule a consultation today.