In early January, it looked as if the Weinstein Company was finally closing in on a $500 million sale as its final act to extricate itself from the Harvey Weinstein scandal. However, that deal crumbled Sunday when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a bombshell civil rights lawsuit against the company.
A new ownership group led by Maria Contreras-Sweet and Ron Burkle was set to assume ownership of the independent studio in the coming days. But Schneiderman’s lawsuit—which has been filed against Harvey, his brother Bob Weinstein and the entire Weinstein Co. and alleges that they violated New York’s civil rights laws and New York City’s human rights laws—is said to have torpedoed the deal.
According to TMZ, the lawsuit claims Harvey sexually harassed female employees of the company for years by cultivating a hostile work environment and offering a quid pro quo system wherein sexual favors would be exchanged for career advancement. Schneiderman also says in the lawsuit that the disgraced Hollywood mogul used his position and company resources for sexual interests with women seeking career and business opportunities with the studio.
Finally, the lawsuit alleges that Bob and the board of directors were complicit in Harvey’s gross misuse of power and were aware of such activities, doing virtually nothing to prevent them.
In response, the board of directors has released the following statement, per Deadline:
“We are disappointed that the New York Attorney General felt it necessary to file today’s complaint. Many of the allegations relating to the Board are inaccurate and the Board looks forward to bringing the facts to light as part of its ongoing commitment to resolve this difficult situation in the most appropriate way. With respect to the Company’s ongoing sale process, the Board sought a transaction to preserve jobs and create a victim fund. Any suggestion that the Company or its Board somehow impeded or discouraged the buyer’s access to the New York Attorney General is simply untrue. Indeed, the Company and its Board actively encouraged the buyer to communicate with the Attorney General. The Company looks forward to continuing our discussions with the Attorney General in order to reach our common goal of bringing this situation to an appropriate resolution.”
Harvey’s lawyer, Ben Brafman, provided TMZ with a statement: “We believe that a fair investigation by Mr. Schneiderman will demonstrate that many of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein are without merit. While Mr. Weinstein’s behavior was not without fault, there certainly was no criminality, and at the end of the inquiry, it will be clear that Harvey Weinstein promoted more women to key executive positions than any other industry leader and there was zero discrimination at either Miramax or TWC.”
It continues: “If the purpose of the inquiry is to encourage reform throughout the film industry, Mr. Weinstein will embrace the investigation. If the purpose, however, is to scapegoat Mr. Weinstein, he will vigorously defend himself.”
Even before the Weinstein scandal, the studio had been on the downswing over the last several years. TWC’s last Best Picture Oscar win came in 2011 for The King’s Speech.