Harvey Weinstein’s dramatic fall from grace is one of the most important wins for the #MeToo movement. Unfortunately for Weinstein, his legal woes are only just beginning. Decades of sexual misconduct, assault, and more have already come to the surface. Less talked about, however, is the impact his actions had on the careers of many actresses, something that Ashley Judd aims to change with a lawsuit she filed in April.
The lawsuit cites California’s Unfair Competition Law, intended to prevent and provide legal recourse for unfair, unlawful, and fraudulent business practices.
Ms. Judd claims that for years, there was an invisible headwind that stymied her career. Harvey Weinstein’s considerable power in Hollywood had been leveled directly against her. It is a claim supported by multiple victims who have come forward against the movie mogul.
The Unfair Competition Law may allow Ashley Judd to recover damages from Weinstein, but defamation cases are often difficult to prove.
According to Ms. Judd’s lawyer, the lawsuit intends to “hold Mr. Weinstein accountable for his retaliation”. Citing the Unfair Competition law brings the case into atypical territory; the UCL rarely sees use in the areas of sexual harassment or workplace retaliation. However, the nature of defamation campaigns often represents a barrier to legal compensation.
A smear campaign often begins with word of mouth. The victim oftentimes does not even know that there are people speaking negatively about them. This makes it difficult to connect lost business opportunities to past events after the fact.
Worse still, once they become aware that they are the victims of such a campaign, those responsible can easily deny involvement; electronic communications have allowed for a certain degree of anonymity, making it even harder to identify perpetrators, let alone collect damages.
Weinstein’s conduct towards actresses like Ashley Judd is an ‘open secret’ in Hollywood. However, the nature of social media has allowed Weinstein and his supporters to deny these acts. In their eyes the accusations are little more than “he said, she said”. What gives Ms. Judd a unique advantage now is that a major film director has stepped forward to corroborate her claims.
Director Peter Jackson has stated that he removed Ashley Judd from the casting list of the Lord of the Rings films at the behest of Weinstein’s production company.
According to Judd’s lawsuit, Weinstein was responsible for damaging her career in the wake of rejecting his sexual advances in 1997. Corroborating her accusation is none other than Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings saga. He says that he removed Ashley Judd from a casting list for the Lord of the Rings films after a phone call to Miramax, a production company then owned by Weinstein.
During that phone call, Judd was described as “a nightmare to work with,” which prompted Jackson to remove her from consideration. The negative characterization was also applied to actress Mira Sorvino, who Jackson had been considering for a role. Sorvino has since spoken out, stating that in the mid-1990s, Weinstein repeatedly sexually harassed her.
Miramax’s negative portrayal of these actresses potentially cost them an immeasurable boost to their careers. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy grossed just under $3 billion dollars in theaters alone, and thrust multiple actors into career heights they had previously never known.
The implications of the lawsuit stretch beyond the film world, into other fields where employees have had their careers thwarted by unethical employers.
The #MeToo movement includes women across the world, from famous film stars to small business employees and government officials. Their stories often involve men like Weinstein abusing their positions of power to get what they want. Ms. Judd hopes that her lawsuit will provide a “way forward” for other victims in similar circumstances.
Unfortunately, it is a problem that will not go away overnight. Settlements are often used in place of more permanent solutions. In California, a state worker by the name of Dennis B. Kellogg has been the target of
Similar challenges face California’s higher education. A group of 200 USC professors have demanded the resignation of President C.L. Max Nikias. It has been revealed that for decades, a campus gynecologist subject to numerous complaints of misconduct had been shielded by Nikias. However, despite a growing social media campaign calling for his ouster, the USC Board of Trustees stand behind Nikias. It is a case that eerily mirrors the Michigan State University scandal surrounding convicted child molester Larry Nassar.
In a post-#MeToo world, it appears that many such legal entanglements lay in wait. It is still early in the process for Judd vs. Weinstein. How the court handles this case could determine the fates of similar lawsuits now moving forward.
This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or case.