The former Hollywood producer whose decades-long pattern of sexual harassment launched the #MeToo movement has faced multiple lawsuits alleging employment discrimination, intentional torts like assault and battery, and other claims. He is now the subject of several more lawsuits filed in New York state and federal courts in recent months. The plaintiffs in these lawsuits assert tort claims arising from the former producer’s alleged actions, and his production company’s alleged lack of action to prevent them. They are not asserting claims under employment statutes like the New York State Human Rights Law, because in most cases they were not employees, and were not seeking to become employees of his production company. Instead, they were aspiring actresses. This highlights how, while New York sexual harassment laws cannot always protect people in certain situations, other forms of relief are available.
Sexual harassment is considered unlawful sex discrimination when an employee or job applicant is expected to acquiesce to sexual demands in order to get a job, secure favorable assignments or perks, or avoid termination. This is known as quid pro quo sexual harassment. An example in the employment context might involve a restaurant or retail manager who gives the best shift assignments to employees who meet the manager’s sexual demands.
In the entertainment business, this practice is sometimes known as the “casting couch,” in which a producer or director expects sexual activity in exchange for getting cast in a particular role. This is often accompanied by a threat, express or implied, that rejecting the sexual advances will have negative effects on their career. Since actors and actresses who are cast in movies are usually not employees of the production company, they might not have a claim for relief under employment discrimination laws. They could, however, assert claims under tort law.
Since December 2019, at least three lawsuits have been filed in Manhattan courts against the former producer. Two lawsuits were filed in state court in December 2019 and May 2020. A federal lawsuit was filed in August 2020. The plaintiffs in the three lawsuits were aspiring actresses when they encountered the defendant. Several of them were minors at the time of the alleged acts. Some claims rely on New York’s Child Victims Act (CVA) or the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
The state court lawsuits named the former producer, his brother and former business partner, their production company, and its parent company as defendants. The plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in December 2019 was originally part of a class action filed in 2017, but her claims were dismissed in April 2019. Her lawsuit, filed in accordance with the CVA, alleges battery against the former producer, and negligence against the other defendants.
Four women filed the May 2020 lawsuit as Jane Does. They assert causes of action for assault, battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the former producer. The other defendants face claims for assault, battery, aiding and abetting assault and battery, negligence, and negligent hiring, retention and supervision.
The plaintiff in the federal lawsuit also filed as a Jane Doe. She only names the former producer as a defendant, and asserts a single cause of action for damages under the TVPA.
The knowledgeable and skilled sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of employees and job seekers in New York City, helping them assert claims under local, state, and federal law. Please contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.