Six women sue Harvey Weinstein, seek to represent class of "dozens, if not hundreds" of assault victims
NEW YORK (AP) — Six women sued Harvey Weinstein and men who served on the board of his film company Wednesday, accusing them of functioning like an organized crime group that used agents, producers and others to prey on young women seeking a break in a breakneck industry.
The racketeering lawsuit in federal court in New York sought to represent "dozens, if not hundreds" of women who say they were assaulted by Weinstein after being isolated in close quarters such as a hotel room after bystanders were sent away.
Lawyers for the women say Weinstein used his company to supply himself with a steady stream of victims, and to cover up his misbehavior — an effort they dubbed the "Weinstein Sexual Enterprise."
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, mirrored one filed in Los Angeles last month that did not identify plaintiffs by name.
It said the "proverbial 'casting couch' was Harvey Weinstein's office of choice" in an arrangement condoned by defendants Miramax LLC, The Weinstein Co. Holdings LLC. It said the companies had a duty to stop Weinstein from groping, harassing or assaulting women seeking employment in their films.
A Weinstein lawyer declined comment Thursday, but Weinstein's representatives forwarded a statement saying Weinstein "has never at any time committed an act of sexual assault, and it is wrong and irresponsible to conflate claims of impolitic behavior or consensual sexual contact later regretted, with an untrue claim of criminal conduct."
"There is a wide canyon between mere allegation and truth, and we are confident that any sober calculation of the facts will prove no legal wrongdoing occurred. Nonetheless, to those offended by Mr. Weinstein's behavior, he remains deeply apologetic," it said.
Other defendants in the suit included 11 current or former board members of the Weinstein Co., including Robert Weinstein, Dirk Ziff, Tim Sarnoff, Marc Lasry, Tarak Ben Ammar, Lance Maerov, Richard Koenigsberg, Paul Tudor Jones, Jeff Sackman and James Dolan, the owner of the New York Knicks.
The lawsuit said each was personally aware of Weinstein's conduct toward women, though it offered no specific evidence to back up that claim.
Several board members have said publicly that they were unaware of any allegations of sexual assault, though some acknowledged being aware of financial settlements between Weinstein and women. All 11 did not respond to phone or email messages Wednesday.
In an email to the staff of his company, Jones, a hedge fund manager and philanthropist, said he knew nothing about the allegations until they were reported in the media.
"They were 100 percent a surprise to me," Jones wrote. "I joined the Weinstein Company Board as an unpaid, outside member in late 2015, after the internal company debate about Harvey's contract renewal. I never knew about those discussions or any of the revelations until they began to surface publicly, and I resigned two days later."
The lawsuit was filed hours after The New York Times published an article scrutinizing the actions of people around Weinstein who either didn't act on warnings or actively worked to keep allegations quiet.
Miramax, headquartered in Santa Monica, California, said in a statement that Miramax "joins the entire film community in condemning Harvey Weinstein and his unspeakable actions." It said it has been completely independent of Weinstein since he created The Weinstein Co.
"Twelve years and two ownership changes later, Miramax is a very different company. We at Miramax are proud of that difference," the statement said.
The Weinstein Co. Holdings, based in New York, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Weinstein was ousted from the movie company he founded following a barrage of sexual harassment allegations that began in early October.
At least 75 women have come forward in the media to detail accounts of assault, harassment and inappropriate conduct. Police in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, New York and London are investigating.
According to the lawsuit, actresses and other women in the film industry were lured to industry events, hotel rooms, Weinstein's home, office meetings or auditions under the pretext that they were to discuss a project.
If women did not meet his sexual demands, Weinstein and his associates used nondisclosure agreements, payoffs and legal threats to suppress their voices, the lawsuit said.
The women, the lawsuit said, "were aware of Weinstein's ability to make or break their careers, as well as to continue to inflict emotional distress."
Plaintiffs included the scriptwriter and actress Louisette Geiss and the actresses Katherine Kendall, Zoe Brock, Sarah Ann Thomas, Melissa Sagemiller and Nanette Klatt.
The Associated Press generally doesn't name alleged victims of sexual assault without their permission. All of the women have told their stories publicly.
Associated Press Writer Verena Dobnik contributed to this report.
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