Actress Ashley Judd persuaded a federal appeals court to let her proceed with a sexual-harassment claim against former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who she said sabotaged her career after she rejected his advances.
The allegation stems from an episode at a Beverly Hills hotel about two decades ago, where Judd says she met the bathrobe-clothed Weinstein in a private room under the pretext of a breakfast meeting. The actress claims she only managed to escape the room after promising he could “touch her” when she won an Academy Award in one of his movies.
The San Francisco-based appeals court Wednesday overruled the trial judge who last year had dismissed Judd’s sexual-harassment claim while allowing her to proceed on other allegations against Weinstein, including defamation. At the time of the incident in the late 1990s, Judd and Weinstein had a professional relationship that fell within the parameters of California’s sexual-harassment law, the appeals court said.
“Their relationship consisted of an inherent power imbalance wherein Weinstein was uniquely situated to exercise coercion or leverage over Judd by virtue of his professional position and influence as a top producer in Hollywood,” the court said.
Weinstein is currently serving a 23-year sentence for sex crimes at a maximum security prison in upstate New York after a conviction at trial earlier this year.
California’s sexual-harassment law was amended in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which was unleashed by the revelations of Weinstein’s long history of sexual abuse of young actresses. The state’s law now specifically includes professional relationships involving movie directors and producers.
“We are glad that both Ms. Judd and Mr. Weinstein will have their day in court, where we expect the truth will come to light,” Phyllis Kupferstein, an attorney for Weinstein, said in a statement. “The most minimal investigation of the events will show that Mr. Weinstein neither defamed Ms. Judd, nor hindered or interfered with her career, and certainly never retaliated against her and indeed, had nothing to retaliate for.”
Judd’s attorney, Ted Boutrous, said the ruling was a victory for all victims of sexual harassment in professional relationships.
“The court correctly holds that California law forbids sexual harassment and retaliation by film producers and others in powerful positions, even outside the employment context, and we look forward to pursuing this claim against Mr. Weinstein at trial,” Boutrous said in a statement.
Weinstein also faces civil lawsuits from some alleged victims. Earlier this month, a federal judge in New York declined to approve a proposed $18.9 million settlement between Weinstein and nine women who claim he sexually assaulted or abused them. The judge said the tentative deal isn’t fair to other women.
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