The Weinstein Company on Sunday was hit with a civil-rights lawsuit by New York's attorney general, after a four-month investigation into claims of sexual misconduct against the disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
The suit from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman claimed several key figures at the company were complicit in Weinstein’s years of alleged sexual harassment and abuse, saying top executives at the company and its human resources department were aware of the reported misconduct, but did nothing. The lawsuit named his brother, Robert, and the board specifically.
The lawsuit emerged amid reports the company was about to be sold to an investor group -- with plans to set up a “largely female-led studio.”
“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,” Schneiderman said in a statement provided to Fox News. “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. Every New Yorker has a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment, intimidation, and fear.”
Schneiderman’s investigation reportedly discovered instances of Weinstein making death threats to workers while touting his connection to political influencers. Several groups of female employees allegedly were tasked with facilitating his sexual exploits by going with him to events, texting potential sexual partners and giving work opportunities to women he selected after encounters with them.
The complaint even details a “Bible” that employees had access to, which reportedly outlined the way Weinstein wanted his employees to arrange sexual encounters, which were called “personals” around the office.
The complaint noted several instances of Weinstein allegedly groping and exposing himself to women at work. At every turn, the suit painted a picture of those involved with TWC as complicit in either ignoring these complaints or allowing threats against the accusers.
In one example, an assistant wrote an email complaint to human resources regarding Weinstein's behavior only to find it forwarded directly to him via email minutes later, according to the suit.
The Attorney General’s office also claims that, rather than punish Weinstein for his misconduct, the board voted unanimously to approve a new contract that monetize complaints against him, opting for a sort-of fine system rather than any termination or punishment. Weinstein could opt to pay $250,000 for the first payment to “satisfy a claim,” $500,000 for the second, $750,000 for the third and $1 million for each subsequent instance.
"We believe that a fair investigation by Mr. Schneiderman will demonstrate that many of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein are without merit," Weinstein's attorney, Ben Brafman, told Fox news in a statement. "While Mr. Weinstein's behavior was not without fault, there certainly was no criminality, and 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 at either Miramax or TWC.
"If the purpose of the inquiry is to encourage reform throughout the film industry, Mr. Weinstein will embrace the investigation. if the purpose however is to scapegoat Mr. Weinstein, he will vigorously defend himself."
As Variety noted, this lawsuit has come at a precarious time for TWC and an investor group led by Maria Contreras-Sweet, which was in talks to buy the company for $500 million, including $225 million in assumed debt.
While a deal was expected to close as early as this week, the outlet reported all negotiations and dealings have halted amid the lawsuit. Schneiderman’s complaint noted that the imminent sale of the company likely would leave victims without “adequate redress, including a lack of a sufficient victims compensation fund.”
“My personal feeling is, I understand the AG wanting to protect the rights of all the employees on a going forward basis,” Weinstein told Deadline. “What I don’t understand is why things couldn’t be negotiated to meet the needs of everyone. I am the seller. If buyers objects to something the AG wanted to impose, that is out of my control. That said, perhaps somebody did not understand we were taking a company forward and trying to save jobs."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.