Harvey Weinstein Exposure (no pun intended)

Posted on Oct 11, 2017 in Business Litigation

The mounting sexual assault and harassment claims against disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein could have severe legal consequences for the executive and his already struggling namesake company. Although it may be difficult to build a criminal case against Weinstein, his alleged mistreatment of women could expose him and his film and TV company to costly civil lawsuits, according to attorneys and professors specializing in sexual misconduct. Under California and New York law, the potential liability is significant for Weinstein and Weinstein Co.

1. Civil Exposure: Whether a victim will bring an action against Weinstein, 65, will hinge on the applicable statute of limitations. In California, the statute of limitations for civil sexual assault is two years and in New York it is three years; Weinstein has been accused of misconduct in both states. There will probably be a flood of lawsuits headed his way so long as they are timely and he has not settled with the victims. It has been reported that he has reached at least eight legal settlements with women over alleged harassment.

On Tuesday, the New Yorker published a story that included, among other allegations, claims that Weinstein had raped three women in the last 20 years. Actresses and other employees in Mr. Weinstein’s orbit described being invited to a hotel room, finding the producer in a bathrobe and being urged to exchange massages, have sex or watch him masturbate. The New Yorker published a report on Tuesday detailing allegations of sexual assault, including rape. In total, more than 20 women have now reportedly accused Mr. Weinstein of assault or harassment. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Weinstein has denied engaging in nonconsensual sex. The stories share a common thread: fear that reporting the inappropriate behavior of a titan of the film industry could backfire and destroy their career.

2. Criminal Exposure: Weinstein could also face criminal liability over his alleged behavior. In New York, there is no statute of limitations for criminal sexual assault — the result of a 2005 law that did away with a prior timing restriction. Any alleged act that occurred after that year can be prosecuted in the state. In California, a previous 10-year criminal statute of limitations for rape and other sexual misconduct was removed last year after Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation amending the penal code. The new law went into effect Jan. 1 and affects certain sex crimes that have occurred in 2017 or will transpire in the future. It also applies to alleged offenses for which the prior statute of limitations had not expired by Jan. 1.

But bringing a criminal case against Weinstein, will be difficult, in part because alleged victims may have signed affidavits repudiating their allegations. In one 2015 matter, fashion model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez told police in New York that Weinstein had groped her, but the Manhattan district attorney decided against charging the executive. Gutierrez reached a settlement with Weinstein, according to reports. A spokeperson for the Manhattan D.A.’s office has apparently stated that if they could have prosecuted Weinstein, they would have done so already.

An example of the difficulties of bringing a criminal case is the Bill Cosby fiasco. While dozens of women accused Cosby of rape, sexual battery and other misconduct, and many sued him, the one criminal case brought against Cosby ended in a hung jury in June.

3. The Weinstein Co.’s Exposure: The New Yorker article described a “culture of complicity” at the Weinstein Co. Some current and former employees told the magazine that they were enlisted to help trick women into being alone with Weinstein in supposedly professional meetings that were pretexts for his sexual advances. In California and New York, companies can be found liable if a manager has engaged in harassment, even if others at the firm weren’t aware of the inappropriate behavior. Weinstein was co-chairman of his company and, with his brother Bob, owns 42%.

If a manager of a company engages in harassment conduct, the company is liable even if they didn’t know about it. Potential damages in such cases could include loss of wages, for example, if the victim is unable to work or find work because of the harassment. Companies can also be hit with demands for damages for emotional distress, among other claims.

4. Shareholder Lawsuits against Weinstein: Weinstein could also face lawsuits from the company he led until Sunday. Other shareholders of Weinstein Co. could sue him for breach of contract if he broke the company’s covenants or policies, according to one legal expert. However, if those shareholders knew about his alleged behavior and failed to act or were complicit, they would be unable to reap the prospective gains of a lawsuit.

5. Matrimonial Litigation: On Tuesday, Weinstein’s wife of a decade, Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman, announced that she is leaving him.

Leave a Reply