Business

Ashley Judd Sues Harvey Weinstein, Saying He Harmed Her Career

Posted April 30, 2018 7:52 p.m. EDT

LOS ANGELES — Ashley Judd sued Harvey Weinstein on Monday, opening a new legal battlefront for the disgraced film producer by claiming that her career withered because he spread lies about her in Hollywood after she rejected his sexual requests.

It is rare for people to recover damages for smear campaigns — for instance, quietly labeling actresses as “difficult” when they don’t acquiesce to powerful men — because of how complicated it can be to prove the action took place, let alone directly harmed someone’s career.

But Judd has an A-list director on her side: Peter Jackson, who came forward in December to say that he removed her from a casting list “as a direct result” of what he now thought was “false information” provided by Weinstein.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, involves Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, the first of which was released in 2001. Jackson had wanted to cast Judd in a prominent role in the series. But Weinstein “torpedoed Ms. Judd’s incredible professional opportunity,” according to the complaint, by falsely telling Jackson that Judd was a “nightmare” who should be avoided “at all costs.”

If successful, the lawsuit could clarify sexual harassment protections for those in nontraditional business relationships. Judd was not Weinstein’s employee in a conventional sense at the time of their encounter, but her complaint contends that she had a continuing business relationship with him. It said that she had been cast in one of his films, a comedic drama called “Smoke,” and that she had been summoned to his hotel room to discuss additional roles he controlled.

Judd is suing Weinstein for defamation and sexual harassment and for violating California’s broadly written Unfair Competition law, which prohibits “unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business acts and practices.” Unfair competition has not historically been applied to the area of sexual harassment and retaliation.

“Ashley is fighting back, but she also wants to point the way for others,” Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., the lead lawyer representing Judd in the suit, said in an interview. Boutrous, who is known for his high-profile work for companies like Walmart and Apple and for pushing the courts on issues like same-sex marriage, added that “if this isn’t an example of unfair business practice, then I don’t know what is.”

Judd said in a statement that “financial recuperation will be donated to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, so that women and men in all professions may have legal redress for sexual harassment, economic retaliation and damage to their careers.”

The lawsuit maintains that Weinstein was retaliating against Judd for refusing to engage in sexual activity with him. About a year before Judd was in contention for the “Lord of the Rings” role, Weinstein had her meet him in a hotel room in Beverly Hills — under the guise of discussing business — where he appeared in a bathrobe and, among other things, asked her to submit to a massage and watch him shower, the complaint said. Judd had previously recounted the episode in an interview with The New York Times published in October.

“Weinstein’s wrongful and outrageous conduct has not just deprived Ms. Judd of the specific opportunity to play a prominent role in a blockbuster film trilogy; it has had a long-lasting ripple effect on her whole career,” the complaint said. “No person — in whatever job, in whatever industry — should have to forfeit professional aspirations and the right to earn a living to the abusive whims of the powerful.”

A spokesman for Weinstein had no immediate comment.

Weinstein has previously denied trying to derail Judd’s career. In December, when Jackson told a publication in New Zealand that Weinstein had told him not to cast Judd or Mira Sorvino, Weinstein said in a statement that he had “no input into the casting whatsoever.” (Sorvino has also accused Weinstein of harassment.) Although the “Lord of the Rings” movies were started at Miramax, a boutique studio run by Weinstein and then owned by Disney, the project moved to New Line Cinema before filming started.

Jackson rejected Weinstein’s denial in subsequent comments in December, saying that his creative partner on the films, Fran Walsh, “remembers these negative comments about Ashley and Mira as clearly as I do.” The lawsuit filed by Judd on Monday laid out a pattern of retaliatory behavior by Weinstein against actresses who rebuffed his sexual advances — what California courts have described as “me too” evidence in employment cases. Sorvino is cited as one example.

“Weinstein made false statements of fact about Ms. Sorvino to others in the film industry to punish her and damage her career,” the suit said. “These comments included, but were not limited to, statements made to Mr. Jackson and Ms. Walsh in a private business meeting that Ms. Sorvino was ‘a nightmare to work with.'”

Sorvino told The New Yorker in October that Weinstein tried to massage her and “chased her around” a hotel room at a film festival in 1995.

Another example cited by Judd involved Annabella Sciorra, who has said that Weinstein raped her in the 1990s. “She believes she did not work from 1992 to 1995 because the ‘Harvey machine’ spread a baseless rumor that she was ‘difficult,'” the complaint said of Sciorra. Weinstein has repeatedly denied engaging in “nonconsensual sex.”

Prosecutors in New York, Los Angeles and London are pursuing possible criminal cases against him. Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, is suing Weinstein and his brother and business partner, Bob Weinstein, for repeatedly violating state and city laws barring gender discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and coercion.

Amid these investigations, The Weinstein Co. has toppled into bankruptcy. Bids for the movie and television studio’s assets were due Monday, with an auction scheduled for later in the week should competing offers emerge.