New York files civil rights lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein, his company, and his brother

Schneiderman seeks justice for Weinstein's victims.

Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman and co-founder of Weinstein Co. (CREDIT: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman and co-founder of Weinstein Co. (CREDIT: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed suit on Sunday in New York County Supreme Court against Harvey Weinstein and his company, alleging that “The Weinstein Company repeatedly broke New York law by failing to protect its employees from pervasive sexual harassment, intimidation, and discrimination.” The complaint also names Harvey Weinstein’s brother, Robert.

The suit throws a wrench into the planned sale of The Weinstein Company to Maria Contreras-Sweet for $500 million.

Weinstein’s misdeeds were first exposed this fall in bombshell reports by the New York Times and the New Yorker. Schneiderman says the suit, the product of a four month investigation, contains “new and egregious examples of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein.

The purpose of the suit is to ensure “victims will be compensated, employees will be protected going forward, and that neither perpetrators nor enablers will be unjustly enriched” by any sale of the company.

The complaint focuses in particular on Weinstein’s treatment on his own staff. Some examples:

HW told a male assistant he was fired for – as reflected in an email sent by the assistant to the head of Human Resources about the incident – being “just a fucking faggot boy, a stupid fucking faggot boy.” HW routinely used similar epithets attacking employees’ masculinity.

[Weinstein] asked female employees if they had their period, including asking an employee if her tampon was “up too far.” He also accused female employees of
wanting special treatment because of their gender.

HW told several employees throughout the relevant time period that, in substance,
“I will kill you,” “I will kill your family,” and “You don’t know what I can do,” or words to that effect. HW touted his connection to powerful political figures and asserted that he had contacts within the Secret Service that could take care of problems. Female employees knew from observations of HW and from the experiences of other TWC employees that he was capable of fits of rage, including infliction of physical injury, and that he was sexually aggressive. Thus, they became fearful that they could suffer physical injury or worse if they did not satisfy his demands.

One TWC employee was tasked with preparing a room in TWC’s offices for HW’s sexual activity when he wished to have sexual encounters in the office, and with cleaning up when it was over. Articles of women’s clothing were left behind on occasion after these incidents, making clear what transpired during these encounters and requiring TWC employees to make arrangements for their return.

The lawsuit also contains examples on Weinstein’s famously lecherous behavior, which also targeted women in the company.

According to information provided to TWC employees interviewed by the OAG, in one instance in late 2014, HW approached a young female TWC intern, and told her to write
her name and phone number on a slip of paper. The intern, who had not had interactions with HW before, was surprised and complied. HW asked her to join him for dinner that night but she declined, citing pre-existing plans. He told her to cancel them and that he would call her that night. When HW called, the employee again refused to meet him, and he ultimately proposed a meeting at 7:30a.m. at the Peninsula Hotel where he was staying. When she arrived at the hotel, HW made clear that he wanted a sexual relationship and proceeded to name famous actresses whose careers he purportedly had advanced after they agreed to his proposition. HW proposed a similar quid pro quo relationship to the intern. The intern spent an hour repeatedly saying no to his entreaties and refusing to come up to HW’s hotel room. After the incident, the intern left the company. The complaint was reported to Human Resources and to company executives, but TWC took no institutional action to protect interns from HW or prevent future recurrence of such conduct.

The lawsuit seeks substantial civil fines ($100,000 to $250,000) for each violation of New York’s civil right law. The state also seeks “restitution and damages in the amount of the harm to the victims of Respondents’ illegal conduct in connection with its hostile workplace environment and sexual harassment of women.”

A separate class action lawsuit was filed in November.