New York’s attorney general has filed a lawsuit against scandal-hit Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, his brother and his former company, alleging that their film studio failed to protect its employees against its cofounder.
Weinstein, 65, was fired from The Weinstein Company last October, after more than 70 women accused him of sexual misconduct, including rape. He has denied all allegations of “non-consensual sex”.
The case was brought forward by Eric Schneiderman on Sunday, following an investigation into accusations against the prominent film producer of sexual harassment by dozens of women in the film industry.
The New York Times and The New Yorker first published damning exposes about the alleged sexual misconduct in October 2017.
Scores of other prominent actors – including Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Mira Sorvino – subsequently came forward and accused Weinstein of abusive behaviours.
“To work for Harvey Weinstein was to work under a persistent barrage of gender-based obscenities, vulgar name-calling, sexualised interactions, threats of violence, and a workplace general hostile to women,” the lawsuit, submitted in the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, read.
The attorney general also found that senior members of the board, including Weinstein’s younger brother, Robert, were well aware of the producer’s activities and failed to take any action.
The company and co-owner Robert “are liable because they were aware of and acquiesced in repeated and persistent unlawful conduct, by failing to investigate or stop it”, the lawsuit said.
The civil rights probe revealed that the human resource department received numerous complaints over the past four or five years.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Washington, DC, said the lawsuit “makes very clear that there were layers within The Weinstein Company that were well aware of the activities of the principal shareholder and, in fact, empowered him in his activities”.
In response, the company’s board of directors expressed its “disappointment” at the lawsuit and dismissed the claims.
“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,” it said in a statement to Deadspin.
The lawsuit has stalled the planned sale of the company for $500m.
In the wake of the case, the investment group Maria Contreras-Sweet, which was expected to sign a deal with the troubled company, has withdrawn its offer to buy it immediately.
“Any sale of the Weinstein Company must ensure that victims will be compensated, employees will be protected going forward, and that neither perpetrators nor enablers will be unjustly enriched,” Schneiderman said in a news release.
Under the deal, Maria Contreras-Sweet has publicly said it would compensate the victims of alleged abuse by Weinstein.
The sale was set to take place on Sunday.
“It is the attorney general’s apparent wish that the sale of this company will not go ahead until all those within it are held accountable and responsible, for their role in facilitating the activities of Harvey Weinstein himself,” Al Jazeera’s Hanna said.