Legal woes for Weinstein Co. mounted Wednesday when the company was hit with a class-action lawsuit on behalf of dozens of women accusing co-founder Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, battery and lewd conduct.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles 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.
The 59-page complaint alleges that a network of people who worked for Weinstein, including attorney David Boies, enabled his mistreatment of women and participated in what it describes as the “Weinstein Sexual Enterprise.” The suit also names Miramax, the independent film studio Weinstein and his brother Bob founded and operated before selling it Disney in 1993.
“The proverbial ‘casting couch’ was Harvey Weinstein’s office of choice, a choice facilitated and condoned by [Weinstein Co.] and Miramax,” according to a suit filed by Steve Berman and several other attorneys.
The lawsuit is the latest of several claims against the New York-based company, which has been struggling to stay afloat as legal and financial woes mount, threatening to push it into bankruptcy. Creditor AI International Holdings last week sued the business, seeking repayment of a loan made to Weinstein Co. last year. On Tuesday, an anonymous actress represented by attorney Gloria Allred sued movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, accusing him of sexual battery and assault incidents that allegedly took place in 2015 and 2016.
Weinstein is the subject of at least 14 sexual assault investigations by police in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, London and New York and more than 70 women have accused him of various levels of sexual abuse and inappropriate conduct.
Weinstein, through a spokeswoman and his attorneys, has denied any non-consensual acts with women. The Weinstein Co. did not respond to requests for comment.
The class action suit stems from a complaint from an unnamed female only identified as Jane Doe. “Plaintiff, and hundreds of other female actors like her, found themselves with Weinstein on the casting couch at offices, in hotel rooms, or at rooms at industry functions,” the suit alleges.
The case details several sexual assaults and allegations of rape by actresses Asia Argento, Rose McGowan, Paz de la Huerta and many others that have already been made public since the New York Times first revealed the allegations more than a month ago.
"We believe the liability should be answered in one case and we don't want everyone to have to try the issues over and over again," said Berman, the lead attorney on the case.
The suit seeks at least $5 million in damages but that amount is expected to climb because of the escalating number of alleged victims.
The suit says a “coalition of firms and individuals” operated a racketeering enterprise dubbed the “Weinstein Sexual Enterprise” that facilitated the “predatory behavior” of Weinstein.
“Under the guise of meetings ostensibly to help further Class Members’ careers or hire them for roles, Weinstein isolated Plaintiff and the Class Members in an attempt to engage in unwanted sexual conduct that took many forms: flashing, groping, fondling, battering, sexual assault, attempted rape and/or completed rape.”
The lawsuit describes an encounter between Jane Doe and Weinstein when she was attending an audition at Miramax’s office in Los Angeles. An associate of Weinstein’s allegedly invited her to meet with the executive in his private office because he was casting a film and was looking for an actress who had her “look.”
Weinstein told her she got the role. As she was leaving he asked her to disrobe and explained he needed to see her breasts, repeatedly stating, “It’s just your breasts,” according to the suit.
When she refused, he became increasingly angry. “I can make you or I can break you,” he insisted, again demanding that she expose her breasts, the complaint states.
Weinstein relented and advised her to leave. She fled down a stairwell that was locked behind her until a maintenance worker freed her, her attorneys said.
Weinstein was fired from his company last month but the mogul still owns nearly a quarter of the business. The embattled studio got a financial reprieve Wednesday when Warner Bros. paid more than $30 million for the North American distribution rights to “Paddington 2.” The Time Warner-owned studio will release the sequel Jan 12. However, most of the money goes to StudioCanal, owned by French conglomerate Vivendi.