New York State Investigation and Lawsuits Review Liability of Hollywood Producer’s Company for Sexual Harassment and Assault

Train wreckIn early October 2017, a prominent Hollywood production company fired one of its founders after numerous accounts of alleged sexual harassment and other misconduct became public. By mid-November, at least 50 women had come forward with allegations that depict a pattern of behavior going back decades. The allegations name a specific individual as the perpetrator, but legal liability for unlawful conduct like sexual harassment is not necessarily limited to the individual. The state of New York has reportedly opened an investigation into the producer’s company. At least two lawsuits allege that the company was aware of the producer’s behavior and was therefore negligent in failing to intervene.

New York sexual harassment is considered unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, state law, and New York City law. Employers are vicariously liable for sexual harassment perpetrated by supervisors or managers against an employee in a subordinate position. An employee alleging sexual harassment by their boss can therefore seek to hold the employer liable under anti-discrimination law. To assert a claim under an employment statute like Title VII, a complainant must establish an employment relationship, either as an employee or as a job applicant. Certain common law claims, such as negligent hiring or negligent supervision, may be available when employment statutes might not apply.

The New York Attorney General (NYAG) announced in late October that it had opened an investigation into the company co-founded by the former film producer. The NYAG’s office has authority to investigate possible violations of the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), which prohibits multiple forms of workplace discrimination, including sex discrimination and sexual harassment. The statute also prohibits “aiding and abetting” unlawful employment practices. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(6).

According to news reports, the NYAG has issued a subpoena to the company for documents related to internal complaints and investigations of sexual harassment and other types of discrimination, as well as settlement payments to accusers. Around the same time, the producer sued the company in an effort to obtain documents he claims he needs for his defense.

Two lawsuits filed in Los Angeles courts seek to hold the production company liable for alleged acts by the producer, based on claims that board members and others involved in management and oversight of the company knew about the producer’s behavior but failed to act. This sort of claim is based on a theory of negligence, which requires proof of four elements:  (1) the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff; and (2) the defendant breached this duty, which (3) caused injuries to the plaintiff and (4) resulted in damages.

Vanity Fair describes one plaintiff as “an aspiring actress” who met with the producer in the hopes that he could help her career. She alleges a course of conduct that began with unwelcome sexual comments and culminated in unwanted sexual contact, which she felt unable to resist because of the producer’s power over her career. A second lawsuit, filed by an anonymous plaintiff, alleges sexual battery and assault claims against the producer and negligence claims against the production company. Both lawsuits reportedly allege that the company’s directors and executives had “actual knowledge” of the producer’s pattern of behavior.

The knowledgeable and experienced sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent New York City employees, job applicants, and former employees in claims for unlawful employment practices like sexual harassment. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

When the Sexual Harasser Is Also the Boss in New York, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 24, 2017

Report Highlights Sexual Harassment, Abuse of Patients by Doctors in New York and Around the Country, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 8, 2016

New Harvard University Policy Demonstrates a Different Side of Sexual Harassment Law, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 8, 2015

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