Sexual harassment in the workplace is a hot topic in Hollywood as the Harvey Weinstein scandal unfolds. While some celebrities seem jaded, others are optimistic about solving the problem.
A dizzying number of reports detailing claims of sexual abuse and harassment by movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and allegations of a culture of complicity at his eponymous Weinstein Company, have ricocheted through the entertainment industry over the last week.
Fallout from the allegations has been swift: The Weinstein Company has cut ties with the embattled company co-founder, firing Weinstein on Sunday while promising an independent investigation into his actions. Celebrities and politicians have condemned the movie mogul. His wife, Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman, is leaving him.
And the reverberations are likely to continue. Here’s what to expect.
Q: Could Weinstein be charged criminally?
A: Potentially. There’s no statute of limitations in New York for rape, criminal sexual acts or aggravated sexual abuse, where several of the alleged events occurred. And the district attorney’s office has the right to re-open or open a case, says Stuart P. Slotnick, a defense attorney at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC in New York specializing in business litigation.
“Particularly if there is new evidence and new circumstances,” Slotnick says. “He basically admitted to doing very bad things, and so that could play into the DA’s office analysis of whether they want to re-open the case, or re-interview complainants.”
Harvey Weinstein was fired from the film company he co-founded, The Weinstein Company. (Photo: Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
The sheer number of women who have stepped forward with similar stories could help convince police or a district attorney to look at re-opening a case or opening a new case.
“That’s going to indicate to the prosecutor’s office and to police that there’s a pattern here we need to be concerned about, and lend credibility to any single complainants,” says Shan Wu, a defense lawyer in Washington, D.C. and former federal sex crimes prosecutor.
More: Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow say Weinstein harassed them, too
Whether or not other cases and complaints can be introduced at a trial is a separate question. Additionally, cases that involve few witnesses, such as those with only the accuser and accused alone together in a hotel room, can be challenging to prove.
“The prosecutors are typically pretty conservative, they are looking at having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Wu says. “They are traditionally very worried about cases that depend 100% on credibility of one witness and not forensic evidence.”
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Q: Will there be civil lawsuits?
A: There’s potential for many civil suits to be filed on all sides, including by Weinstein, who has threatened to sueThe New York Times.
Accusers may sue Weinstein, as they did with Bill Cosby, for infliction of emotional distress.
The Weinstein Company and it’s shareholders may also go after Weinstein for damages for breach of fiduciary duties if the scandal causes the company to lose revenue or go under.
“Clearly this is extremely toxic to the Weinstein Company to the extent that he was the leader of the company and now he’s out,” Slotnick says. “There are questions of whether they’ll be able to survive without him.”
Q: Will more accusers step forward?
A: Over the last few days, a half-dozen additional women have voiced stories of harassment and abuse that fit the pattern initially reported by the Times. And as National Sexual Violence Resource Center communications director Laura Palumbo points out, the onslaught of stories can have a domino effect.
“We do know that when there is a high-profile person, it really captures the public attention, especially in a case like this where so many survivors are coming forward after so long. It really does encourage others who have not come forward about their experiences of sexual harassment or sexual assault to speak up about it,” Palumbo says. “They may feel empowered by the response that they’re seeing to this case to pursue their own legal options.”
Though there’s been support for accusers, with many in Hollywood praising them as brave, Palumbo says there may also be critics, which can be hard for those already traumatized.
“What we’ll also likely see is a lot of people criticizing and detracting from their voices, suggesting there may be ulterior motives, and in other ways attacking their character,” Palumbo says. “That is something that is so harmful and negatively impactful for those individuals, and also something that impacts survivors on a wider scale.”
Wife Georgina Chapman said in a statement following continued accusations against Harvey Weinstein: “I have chosen to leave my husband.” (Photo: Andy Kropa, Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
Q: What are the next flashpoints?
A: The board of governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will review Weinstein’s membership during an emergency meeting Saturday. An Academy statement Wednesday called Weinstein’s alleged actions “repugnant, abhorrent and antithetical” to the group which organizes the Oscars.
Then there’s the possibility of new information coming forward.
“We don’t know what’s going to come out tomorrow, much less next week. This is still in the news cycle because there is a constant stream of new revelations coming out,” says Mark Macias, head of the crisis firm Macias PR. “He needs to go to rehabilitation, not only to get out of the news cycle but (to show) he’s trying to change his life.”
Q: What’s next for The Weinstein Company?
A: The remaining board of directors at The Weinstein Company said in a statement Tuesday that the depth of Weinstein’s alleged offenses “come as an utter surprise to the board. Any suggestion that the board had knowledge of this conduct is false.”
But David Boies, a lawyer who represented Weinstein when his contract was up for renewal in 2015, told The New York Times that the board and the company were made aware at the time of three or four confidential settlements with women.
If there’s evidence the company knew about or should have known about harassment and assault, the liability floodgates will open. Employees or former employees may be able to claim that Weinstein Company maintained a hostile work environment, and sue for emotional distress.
“It’s no different than negligent hiring,” Wu says. “If they were on notice that he was a threat to women and they didn’t do anything about that, that’s a very big problem in terms of civil liability. I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to stop that tidal wave from coming down on them.”
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