NEW YORK (AFP) – New York state sued Harvey Weinstein, his brother and their production company on Sunday for failing to protect employees from years of his alleged sexual misconduct despite multiple complaints from staff.
The lawsuit comes four months after the Hollywood mogul’s career ended over allegations of sexual harassment, assault and rape now levelled by more than 100 women spanning 40 years.
State prosecutors said the suit, the result of an ongoing investigation, was filed out of fear that an imminent sale of The Weinstein Company, now on the verge of bankruptcy, could leave victims without adequate redress. The lawsuit now threatens to delay the sale.
Weinstein’s lawyer poured cold water on the lawsuit and presented his 65-year-old client as a supporter of women’s career advancement.
But state prosecutors accuse the company’s board and executives of repeatedly failing to take adequate steps to protect staff or curb Weinstein’s behaviour, despite multiple complaints to human resources.
The twice-married father of five is being investigated by British and US police, but has not yet been charged with any crime. He denies having non-consensual sex and is reportedly in treatment for sex addiction.
The suit alleges that female assistants were required to facilitate Weinstein’s sex life as a condition of employment and had copies of a manual, known as a “Bible”, that included directions on how to do so.
Prosecutors said Weinstein made verbal threats to “kill” several staff or their families, and touted his connection to political figures and alleged Secret Service contacts that could “take care of problems”.
They said one employee flew from London to New York to teach his assistants “how to dress and smell more attractive” to Weinstein.
Weinstein’s drivers in New York and Los Angeles were required to keep condoms and erectile dysfunction injections in the car at all times, prosecutors said.
Among the alleged misconduct was making a female employee take dictation while leering at her as he lay naked on his bed in 2014-15. He also allegedly put his hand on her upper thigh and buttocks near her genitalia to rub her without consent in the back of cars.
Largely female assistants allegedly contacted prospective sexual partners via text message or phone at his direction, and maintained space on his calendar for sexual activity.
Female executives also allegedly had to meet prospective sexual conquests and follow through on promised job offers, which prosecutors said demeaned and humiliated them, fuelling a hostile work environment.
The New York state attorney’s office said that despite multiple complaints to the human resources department, there was no meaningful investigation or relief for victims, or consequences for Weinstein.
It said the company’s toxic work environment was shrouded in secrecy because of a practice of reaching non-disclosure agreements – a policy that has come under renewed scrutiny in the wake of the sexual harassment watershed that has followed Weinstein’s downfall.
“While Mr Weinstein’s behaviour was not without fault, there certainly was no criminality,” Weinstein’s lawyer Ben Brafman, one of America’s most celebrated criminal defence attorneys, said in a statement.
“At the end of the inquiry, it will be clear that Harvey Weinstein promoted more women to key executive positions than any other industry leader and there was zero discrimination.”
“If the purpose of the inquiry is to encourage reform throughout the film industry, Mr Weinstein will embrace the investigation,” Brafman said. “If the purpose however is to scapegoat Mr Weinstein, he will vigorously defend himself.”
State attorney general Eric Schneiderman said the lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court, detailed Weinstein’s “vicious and exploitative mistreatment” of employees.
“As alleged in our complaint, The Weinstein Company repeatedly broke New York law by failing to protect its employees from pervasive sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination,” said Schneiderman.
“Any sale of The Weinstein Company must ensure that victims will be compensated, employees will be protected going forward and that neither perpetrators nor enablers will be unjustly enriched.”
Last week, the district attorney’s office in Los Angeles said police had submitted three Weinstein sexual assault cases to prosecutors.
A group of investors led by a former official who served in president Barack Obama’s administration is understood to be in advanced talks to buy The Weinstein Company.
Deadline, the Hollywood Insider website that first reported the advanced talks, said a roughly $500 million bid by the group led by Maria Contreras-Sweet included a fund to compensate victims.