In the flood of allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein, one term of art surfaces over and over again: open secret.
Weinstein’s conduct was reportedly known across the industry. Men who never witnessed it heard — and promptly dismissed — rumors about Weinstein having sex with actresses he later cast. Aspiring actresses who were lucky enough to land in the right whisper network were warned against his advances. And, the most damning claim of all: At the Weinstein Company, employees were not just aware of Weinstein’s desires but in fact cowered and catered to them, creating an office-wide apparatus of honeypots and enablers.
On Wednesday, the Weinstein Company was hit with a class-action lawsuit. As the L.A. Times reports, the lawsuit “is the first to seek class-action status with a growing number of women in Hollywood who allege they were sexually assaulted and harassed by the movie mogul.”
Filed in federal court in Los Angeles, the lawsuit is rooted in a complaint from an unnamed woman (Jane Doe 1 in the documents) “on behalf of all women” who met with Weinstein for professional reasons only to find those meetings were a ruse to lure them into situations where Weinstein harassed or assaulted them. There are “hundreds of female actors” like Jane Doe, who, once “isolated” with Weinstein, were the victims of his “flashing, groping, fondling, battering, sexual assault, attempted rape and/or completed rape.”
It claims the “Weinstein Sexual Enterprise” ran a harassment and misdirection campaign in the media to prevent victims from coming forward “and to destroy evidence of the sexual misconduct.” Weinstein and his company now face charges of racketeering, civil battery, assault, and infliction of emotional distress.
“The proverbial ‘casting couch’ was Harvey Weinstein’s office of choice, a choice facilitated and condoned by TWC and Miramax,” the lawsuit reads (emphasis added):
Weinstein’s widespread sexual misconduct did not occur without the help of others. Rather, over time, Weinstein enlisted the aid of other firms and individuals to facilitate and conceal his pattern of unwanted sexual conduct. This coalition of firms and individuals became part of the growing “Weinstein Sexual Enterprise,” a RICO enterprise.
Weinstein’s unparalleled power in the industry is at the center of the lawsuit, which claims “his ability to blacklist an actress for complaining about his predatory behavior – was so legendary that it was the rule in the entertainment industry that actresses needed to acquiesce to Weinstein to succeed.” The lawsuit cites a Weinstein joke from the 2013 Academy Awards nominations announcement, when Seth MacFarlane cracked that the nominees for best supporting actress “no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”
“[A]t all times, [they] operated under duress and the threat of being blacklisted by Weinstein and major film producers such as Miramax if they refused Weinstein’s unwanted sexual advances or complained about his behavior. To the extent a woman was ‘lucky’ enough to escape physically unscathed, Weinstein’s behavior (and the fact it was facilitated by TWC and Miramax, the ‘Complicit Producers’) nonetheless caused injury to their business prospects, career, reputation, and severe emotional distress.”
In a section about how a “coalition of firms and individuals” were “enlisted” by Weinstein to cover up his actions, the lawsuit references by name the intelligence agencies that were employed by Weinstein to suppress negative stories about his sexual misconduct, including the piece in the New York Times; attorney David Boies, Weinstein’s lawyer who personally signed the Black Cube contract while he was employed by The New York Times (Boies didn’t see a conflict of interest there; the Times did) and his firm, Boies Schiller Flexner LLP; and Dylan Howard, chief content officer for American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer.
Jane Doe 1 was auditioning in a building occupied by Miramax when an associate of Weinstein’s invited her “to meet Weinstein in his private office on another floor, because he was reportedly casting a film and was looking for an actress who had her ‘look’.” After she read a few pages from an untitled script for Weinstein, and after he told her she got the part, “Weinstein then told her he ‘just needed one more thing from you. He asked her to disrobe and explained he needed to see her breasts, repeatedly stating, ‘It’s just your breasts.'”
She “refused repeatedly,” and Weinstein told her “that the role required him to review and approve of her breasts”:
Jane Doe 1, realizing she was about to be sexually assaulted, was terrified. 30. When Jane Doe 1 continued to refuse, Weinstein angrily inquired whether she knew who he was, told her he could “make” her or “break” her, and that she would “never work in this town again.” “You know, I could launch your career and I can make you or I can break you,” he insisted, again demanding that she expose her breasts. Weinstein then told Jane Doe 1 to “Give me my script back.” Weinstein was belligerent and ranting. He told her, “Without me, you will never work again.”
Weinstein told Jane Doe 1 to leave through a side door “that led into a pitch-black stairwell. He then locked the door behind her.” She went from one floor to another, “banging on doors and yelling on each landing that she was locked in” until a maintenance worker hard her and let her out. “[T]hat worker immediately asked Jane Doe 1 if she was coming from Weinstein’s floor.”
The suit seeks at least $5 million in damages. But as the number of alleged victims rises, that number will rise with it. At press time, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, misconduct, or assault.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that some of the people referenced in the lawsuit were not named as defendants.