Harvey Weinstein has now lost his job, his wife, and his reputation. Next on his agenda is the prospect of spending a great deal of time huddling with his lawyers.
The disgraced movie mogul is facing a mounting pile of legal troubles swarming at him from every conceivable direction. The details that have been revealed in allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein, particularly those contained in Ronan Farrow’s reporting for the New Yorker, could result in civil and criminal liability for Weinstein and his company, with legal actions against the former film executive emanating from multiple jurisdictions.
More than 20 women have voiced allegations against Weinstein, claims of which include harassment, groping, forced sexual relations, and even rape. The alleged incidents took place over many decades in numerous locales.
The names of women who have lodged charges in the public square include an unusually high number of well known actresses including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Rosanna Arquette, Mira Sorvino, and Kate Beckinsale.
Most of the alleged victims would not be in a position to sue Weinstein in a civil court, due to the relatively short statutes of limitations governing the former mogul’s alleged torts (one or two year time periods).
The alleged assaults took place in many different jurisdictions, including New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Utah, as well as the French Riviera, each of which has varying statutes of limitations and time limits on reporting to authorities.
The alleged acts date as far back as 1984. Eight of the incidents allegedly occurred after the 2005 founding of the Weinstein Company. Moreover, the eight settlements Weinstein reportedly reached with former accusers could prevent those women who already settled from taking him to court.
However, Weinstein’s legal problems in the civil arena are just the beginning of an expanding legal vortex. He now finds his alleged actions are the subject of investigations by the FBI as well as the New York and London police, while Los Angeles law enforcement is looking into launching a probe of its own.
Weinstein has been accused of committing both sexual assault and rape. A sexual assault occurs when an individual is offensively touched without consent or compelled to engage in a sexual act. Rape occurs when an individual is sexually penetrated without consent.
Three of the women have alleged that Weinstein raped them. Predictably, the film executive released a statement denying any allegations of non-consensual sex.
Felony rape is a very serious crime, and a conviction in New York can carry a sentence of up to 25 years. Since 2006 New York has had no statute of limitations for first degree felony sex offenses; this law did not take effect until after 2006 and therefore prosecutors would probably be barred by the statute of limitations for crimes that occurred prior to 2006.
The case that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. had ready to go two years ago should have been prosecuted. An Italian model cooperated with police to obtain an audio recording of Weinstein admitting that he had groped her, yet Vance failed to bring the charges forward. He had no adequate explanation for his lack of action.
The Weinstein Company itself is also facing potential legal consequences. Female employees of the Weinstein Company could bring individual or class action lawsuits against the company for subjecting them to alleged hostile work environments.
The company released a statement indicating that the “allegations come as an utter surprise to the Board” and additionally that “any suggestion that the Board had knowledge of this conduct is false.”
The New York Times followed this statement with a report that the Weinstein Company directors were informed of at least three confidential settlements with women. One of the remaining board members claimed that although he knew about the settlements he believed they dealt only with consensual affairs.
The former and current directors, including Weinstein himself, could be sued by investors in a breach-of-fiduciary-duty lawsuit. The directors could be liable for their failure to address Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct.
Harvey and his brother Bob Weinstein own 42 percent of the company; this leaves a significant number of outside investors who may go after former and current members of the company’s board, including Weinstein.
Weinstein, as a director and officer of the company, would have breached his duty of loyalty if he acted in bad faith for a purpose other than advancing the best interests of the company. If a co-chairman of a company uses his or her position of power to sexually assault potential and actual employees, it breaches the duty to the firm. It also does considerable harm to the company’s brand and the reputation of the enterprise.
According to TMZ, Weinstein’s employment contract with the company had unusual passages in which the contract explicitly addressed the possibility of future misconduct claims against Weinstein.
According to the website, Weinstein agreed to reimburse the company for any settlements or judgments arising out of his misconduct and to make an additional payment to the company for each instance of wrongdoing. The contract purportedly provided that Weinstein could not be fired for committing heinous acts against women as long as he came up with the required payments.
If the TMZ description of the contract is accurate, it means that former and current board members of the Weinstein Company would have been put on notice of Weinstein’s unlawful behavior and sadly would have deliberately allowed his behavior to continue.