Weinstein Company Faces Civil Rights Probe by NY Attorney General

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Sexual Harassment That sexual abuse takes place in Hollywood (among many if not all other industries) is hardly news.

As reported by The Atlantic,

The casting couch—where, as the story goes, aspiring actresses had to trade sexual favors in order to win roles—has been a familiar image in Hollywood since the advent of the studio system in the 1920s and ’30s. Over time, the phrase has become emblematic of the way that sexual aggression has been normalized in an industry dominated by powerful men.

And of course Hollywood didn’t invent the idea of trading sexual “favors” for employment.

As Time notes,

For most of American history, women silently endured mistreatment in the workplace, with little protection or recourse. During the 18th and 19th centuries, sexual coercion was a fact of life for female slaves in the South, as well as a common experience among free domestic workers in the North. In the early 20th century, women employed in new manufacturing and clerical positions confronted physical and verbal assaults from male supervisors. Union leadership was successful in enacting protective legislation that shielded women from performing physically demanding labor, but not from the propositions of lecherous bosses. By the 1920s, working women were advised to simply quit their jobs if they could not handle the inevitable sexual advances.

But now, it seems, something has changed.

Front-Page News

Allegations of sexual assault that were once whispered rumors are now front-page news. And claims that were once settled privately, subject to non-disclosure agreements, are now being addressed by law enforcement.

Not only individual perpetrators are being targeted. The companies they work for are facing scrutiny as well.

As the New York Times reports, the New York attorney general has opened an inquiry into the Weinstein Company to determine whether allegations of rape and sexual harassment against its co-founder, Harvey Weinstein, reflect broader legal violations by the company.

Civil Rights

The attorney general’s Civil Rights Bureau sent a subpoena to the Weinstein Company seeking documents including personnel files and records of settlements with former employees.

At least eight women are reported to have received payments following their claims of sexual harassment and assault by Harvey Weinstein, but it’s unclear whether those settlements came from the company or another source.

According to a lawyer for the company, the company and its board were aware of at least four of the settlements.

Sexual harassment and discrimination is a civil rights violation, and a company that allows such activities can face fines, damages, and penalties totaling millions of dollars.

For example, USA Today reports that a California federal jury awarded a former physician’s assistant $168 million after two years of abuse that continued despite her complaints.

Criminal Charges

Harvey Weinstein is also being investigated for alleged criminal offenses in New York, Los Angeles, and London based on acts that allegedly took place in those jurisdictions.

Weinstein was fired from his own company after the allegations — which go back at least three decades — came to light in articles in the New Yorker and the New York Times.

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