New York attorney general launches investigation of Weinstein Co.

New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman has launched a civil rights investigation into Weinstein Co. following dozens of sexual harassment allegations against the studio’s co-founder, Harvey Weinstein.

The state’s top prosecutor issued a subpoena Monday as part of an investigation into whether officials at the New York-based film and television company violated state civil rights and New York City human rights laws.

“No New Yorker should be forced to walk into a workplace ruled by sexual intimidation, harassment, or fear,” Scheiderman said in a statement. “If sexual harassment or discrimination is pervasive at a company, we want to know.”

The attorney general’s subpoena is seeking all documents related to complaints of sexual harassment and other types of discrimination against employees, said a person familiar with the probe not authorized to comment. The probe is also looking for all records of how such complaints were handled by the company, and all documents concerning settlements.

In addition, the subpoena is seeking the company’s records related to hiring and casting criteria.

Representatives for the Weinstein Co. did not respond to requests for comment.

The attorney general’s move comes about two weeks after Weinstein Co. fired its namesake co-chairman following the publication of sexual harassment allegations in the New York Times.

The subpoena represents a new front in the growing legal battles involving Weinstein and the company he co-founded in 2005. The scope of the investigation could expose the Weinstein Co. and its officials to numerous potential civil and criminal cases, said Albany, N.Y.-based attorney Paul DerOhannesian, who specializes in sexual assault cases.

“Once they investigate, it opens the door to a multiplicity of potential liabilities,” DerOhannesian said. “In a way, it's like a camel's nose under a tent.”

Since then, police in Los Angeles, New York and London have opened criminal investigations into Weinstein.

New York police already have two active sex-crime investigations, and London’s Metropolitan Police is investigating allegations made by three women against Weinstein. The L.A. Police Department also is investigating claims from an Italian model-actress that the movie mogul assaulted her in a hotel in 2013.

Since a New York Times article first revealed allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein earlier this month, more than 40 women — actresses, studio workers and models — have accused Weinstein of inappropriate behavior, including harassment and rape.

Actresses Asia Argento, Rose McGowan, Lysette Anthony and Lucia Evans have all publicly stated that they were raped or forced to perform a sex act by Weinstein. An unnamed woman also told the New Yorker that he raped her. Eight women have received civil settlements over the years from Weinstein related to his conduct, the New York Times reported.

Weinstein has “unequivocally denied” allegations of non-consensual sex, according to his representative.

As legal woes mount, the Weinstein Co. is struggling to survive. Last week the company secured a financial lifeline from Thomas Barrack’s private equity firm Colony Capital, which may end up buying all or part of the studio, best known for movies such as “The King’s Speech” and the television show “Project Runway.”

Executives and employees have been battling back questions about how much they knew about Weinstein’s misconduct. A group of about 30 anonymous employees said in a statement last week that they did not know he was a “serial sexual predator,” although his temper and bullying ways were well-known throughout the industry.

Meanwhile, the Weinstein Co. has lost key projects, including a high-profile Amazon Studios television project from director David O. Russell.

Now the producers of “Paddington 2,” a sequel to a hit family film about a talking bear, are looking to cut ties with the company, which is set to release the movie in the United States in January. Bob Weinstein, now the company’s lone chairman, has cited “Paddington 2” as one of the Weinstein Co.’s most promising pictures. The film was produced by David Heyman’s Heyday Films and French production company StudioCanal.

ryan.faughnder@latimes.com

@rfaughnder


UPDATES:

4:20 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional information about the Weinstein Co.’s business and a quote from an Albany, N.Y.-based attorney.

This article was originally published at 11:45 a.m.

An earlier version of this report omitted actress Lucia Evans' first name.
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