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Harvey Weinstein Strikes Tentative Sexual Misconduct Settlement

By: Allan M. Siegel

Harvey Weinstein has tentatively agreed to a $44 million settlement to resolve a number of lawsuits filed by women who have accused the Miramax co-founder of sexual misconduct, a suit filed by the New York State Attorney General, and other pending claims against the film producer and his former empire.

Though a proposed settlement is on the table, other legal issues and claims involving Weinstein are making victims’ fight for justice all the more difficult.

About the Proposed Settlement

Regarded among one of the entertainment industry’s most powerful figures, Weinstein is currently facing a number of civil lawsuits over sexual assault and misconduct, as well as criminal charges. Here’s a brief breakdown of key issues surrounding the entertainment executive:

  • What led to the legal issues – Weinstein came under fire in late 2017 after investigations from The New York Times and The New Yorker exposed allegations that he sexually harassed or abused numerous employees and women over the course of several decades. In March 2018, The Weinstein Company, co-owned by Harvey and his brother / business partner Bob Weinstein, filed for bankruptcy and has since sold off most of its assets.
  • Pending civil lawsuits – Since 2018, at least 18 women who filed claims against Weinstein have been in mediation (a type of out-of-court settlement negotiation process). Settlement talks have also included former board members and officers of The Weinstein Co., who victims say enabled Weinstein’s misconduct, and the NY Attorney General’s office, which sued Harvey and Bob Weinstein for violating New York laws against sexual harassment and abuse, coercion, and gender discrimination.
  • Criminal charges – In addition to pending civil litigation, Weinstein is also expected to begin a criminal trial in September 2019 in New York over sex-crime charges involving three women who accuse the producer of rape and / or forced sexual acts.
  • The Settlement – The tentative settlement was announced during a bankruptcy court proceeding in late April. Less than half of the $90M victims’ fund initially discussed in settlement talks, and less than a tentative $60M deal agreed to in December, the new proposal would disperse $30M not only to alleged victims, but also a pool of plaintiffs, Weinstein Co. creditors, and former employees, with the remainder going to company board members’ legal fees. According to the Los Angeles Times, victims have called the settlement process a “re-traumatizing” experience, and attorneys for two women rejected the proposal outright.

High-Profile Sexual Misconduct Lawsuits

Though $44 million is a significant sum, difficulties in reaching a final settlement highlight the many challenges of high-profile sexual misconduct claims. Some of these include:

  • Corporate ties – Harvey Weinstein holds stakes in major corporations, which is not uncommon for high-profile individuals accused of sexual wrongdoing. However, corporate ties can create additional challenges in a victim’s fight for justice, especially when companies have significant assets, liabilities, and legal duties owed to shareholders that must be considered or addressed before settlements are reached.
  • Bankruptcy – Bankruptcy proceedings like those surrounding The Weinstein Co. are designed to unwind companies and address their liabilities and dwindling assets. Unfortunately, that means accusers may become part of a long and convoluted legal process in which defendants seek settlements to resolve all pending suits, debts, and other related expenses, and where they may have to compete with others also owed money.
  • Multiple parties – Weinstein may be the individual accused of sexual assault and other improprieties, but some suits also name his company and board members as defendants for their parts in failing to prevent misconduct and protect victims. Multiple defendants create challenges for victims, as those alleged to have some liability (as well as any insurance companies which insure those parties) are motivated to evade accountability and payouts.
  • Multiple defendants – As with Weinstein, high-profile figures often face an onslaught on claims when allegations become public or one or more victims step forward to share similar stories. In this matter, that means a number of individual lawsuits must compete with “class-action lawsuit applicants” who commonly see their claims resolved based on their suffering and the severity of their allegations. These defendants may disagree on terms of “global” settlements that attempt to resolve all claims at once, and may have differing views about final resolutions.
  • Publicity and confidentiality – Claims against individuals in the public eye are subject to intense scrutiny and speculation, even when negotiations or other aspects of a case are kept out of public record. This can create challenges in maintaining confidentiality and privacy, and protecting the rights and reputations of claimants who courageously come forward with claims.

Proven Representation for Victims with Complex Claims

Without question, those who’ve filed claims against Harvey Weinstein find themselves in one of the most complex sexual misconduct cases to date. Although the #MeToo era has helped provide a platform for victims to step forward, it hasn’t necessarily made their legal battles any easier – something evident in cases featuring high-profile individuals, religious institutions, and major organizations. For victims, experienced legal representation is critical to navigating such challenging cases.

Over the years, CSCS attorneys have seen the difficulties of high-profile sexual misconduct claims first-hand; from the infamous Jones v. Clinton case and a defamation suit filed on behalf of women who publicly accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault (both of which were handled by Partner Joseph Cammarata) to claims against former Georgetown Rabbi Barry Freundel and his synagogue Kesher Israel, among many others.

Our firm knows sexual assault and sexual abuse allegations can be immensely difficult, and we understand the importance of handling complexities and added risks prudently so victims are spared the “re-victimization” which so often accompanies high-profile litigation of sensitive, personal matters.

As the Weinstein case unfolds, CSCS will follow its developments, and will remain committed to helping sexual assault, abuse, and harassment victims who want to explore their legal options in cases of their own. If you have a potential claim you wish to discuss, contact us to speak with a lawyer.