Harvey Weinstein’s civil liabilities just got more complicated.
As he and his bankrupt film studio thought they were closing in on a bargain $47m class-action settlement with more than 30 actors and former employees over claims of sexual misconduct, three women have established separate legal actions against the disgraced movie producer.
All three women, Kaja Sokola, Wedil David and Jane Doe – a pseudonym for the same woman who will testify against Weinstein when he is tried next month on charges of rape, predatory sexual assault and criminal sexual act – claim, like many before them, that Weinstein assaulted them.
They maintain that the settlement lets Weinstein off too lightly and are determined to prevent that.
“My clients believe the current settlement is inadequate in terms of the amounts of money for the victims, and doesn’t provide for any understanding of how many will participate or how much each individual will receive,” Doug Wigdor, attorney for the trio, told the Guardian.
Sokola and Doe are making claims under New York’s Child Victims Act, as both were 16 at the time of the alleged assaults. In court documents filed on Thursday, Sokola, 33, told how she was introduced to Weinstein in 2002 at an event associated with her model agency a month after arriving from Poland aged 16.
Weinstein told her he had made the careers of Penelope Cruz and Gwyneth Paltrow and that if she wanted to be an actress, she would have to be comfortable “losing her inhibitions and getting naked”.
According to the complaint, the producer then asked her to lunch in the interest of helping her pursue an acting career. She agreed but alleges his driver brought them to Weinstein’s apartment instead. There, she claims “he terrified and sexually abused her”. Afterwards he insisted “what had just happened was normal”.
When Sokola initially came forward with her claim as a Jane Doe in 2018, Weinstein’s lawyer dismissed them.
“Like so many other women in this case who have already been exposed as liars, this latest completely uncorroborated allegation that is almost 20 years old will also be shown to be patently false,” said Weinstein’s then counsel, Benjamin Brafman.
But Sokola, David and Doe’s accounts are strikingly similar. David claims Weinstein raped her in 2016 and masturbated in front of her both that year and a year earlier, including once during a meeting about a prospective acting job at the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills.
Doe claims that Weinstein sexually assaulted her under the premise of discussing acting opportunities in 2002.
Weinstein has consistently denied all claims of non-consensual sex, and pleaded not guilty to criminal charges against him.
So far more than 80 women have accused him of sexual assault or harassment, including Rosanna Arquette, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Mira Sorvino.
But the latest court filing on behalf of Sokola, whose allegations (under a Jane Doe) first appeared in the 2018 class-action lawsuit that accused Weinstein and the board of his former film company of a pattern of sexual misconduct, point to a split in approaches.
Under the current settlement deal being offered, Weinstein is not required to put up any of his own money or offer an admission of guilt. Additionally, company executives would be shielded from further claims and just $6.2m of the $47m would go to 18 of the alleged victims, with no one individual receiving over $500,000.
But newly enacted child victims legislation, which extends the age at which a victim can bring a claim for past crimes to 55, has reinvigorated efforts to hold Weinstein to account – as well as The Weinstein Company and its executives and Miramax’s parent firm, Disney – on the grounds that all of them had acted to protect the movie producer despite knowledge of his conduct.
The complaint goes on to claim that “numerous employees and executives of Miramax and Disney were aware of Harvey Weinstein’s pattern of misconduct, but the companies that employed him utterly failed to supervise him, and they continued to empower him with their prestige and resources and allowed him to find more victims, including Kaja Sokola.”
Disney did not reply to a request for comment at time of publication.
Unlike many claims against Weinstein and his employers in the class-action suit, Sokola and Davis’s claims fall within the civil statute of limitations. Doe, a 16-year-old at the time of the alleged assault in 2002, is able to claim against Miramax’s then owner, Disney, as well as under the Child Victims Act.
The company, says Wigdor, “bears responsibility legally for the negligence that ultimately permitted Harvey Weinstein to sexually assault our client”.
In breaking away from the proposed class-action settlement, Sokola, Davis and Doe’s attorneys described it as “offensive and one-sided” and called on other victims and the New York attorney general to abandon the settlement and join their effort.
“Where companies had actual knowledge of the sexual predator’s acts, then took steps to hide those acts from the larger public and enabled that person to continue by keeping them employed or building penalties for future transgressions into Harvey Weinstein’s contract, that sets reasonable grounds to hold those companies responsible,” Wigdor said.
And that, Wigdor said, should also be seen in the context of a post-#MeToo environment in which employers and board members can be held accountable for the actions of a sexual predator or for permitting a sexually predatory environment to develop.
“One of the ways of trying to minimize or curtail these power-dynamic situations is for companies to take greater control of, and responsibility for, the acts of its executives. That’s really what we are trying to do in addition to holding Harvey Weinstein accountable.”