The fallen media mogul, Harvey Weinstein, and his bankrupt film company have nearly settled dozens of lawsuits of sex abuse survivors for $25 million. Find out what this will mean for the the survivors and how the settlement will or won’t affect Weinstein’s criminal cases in New York and California state courts.
The case against Hollywood bigwig Harvey Weinstein has been decades in the making, and years in the telling. On October 5, 2017, the New York Times published an article outlining the stories of sex abuse survivors, including actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd. The claims ranged from sexual harassment of actresses and staff working for him to direct allegations of rape. Women claimed that Weinstein forced them to massage him and would open the door to supposed business meetings naked or dressed in a robe. Over the preceding decades, The Times revealed that Weinstein had entered into at least 8 settlements to quiet claims of sexual misconduct and “keep the peace”.
Over the next month, more women came forward, and police in Los Angeles, California, New York, New York, and the United Kingdom, began investigating the claims. Weinstein was fired by the board of his studio, the Weinstein Company, and expelled by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the company behind the Oscars). Many other media and film organizations also distanced themselves from the man.
Then the lawsuits started. On November 1, 2017, a Canadian actress sued Weinstein for 14 million Canadian dollars based on two sexual assaults in Toronto in 2000. Later the same month, a film industry professional filed a sexual assault claim in the UK High Court. On December 1, Kadia Noble filed a lawsuit for sex trafficking in New York.
In February 2018, New York state prosecutors announced a lawsuit against the Weinstein Company for failure to protect its employees against his work-based sexual harassment. The following month, the studio filed for bankruptcy. In November 2018, a lawsuit claiming Weinstein sexually assaulted a 16-year-old Polish model included class action claims against Weinstein personally, his studio, and Miramax.
In the meantime, criminal charges were issued against Weinstein in New York in May 2018 and he was indicted on charges of rape and criminal sexual act. Additional charges were added in July 2018, and again in August 2019. On January 6, 2020, Los Angeles County prosecutors added charges of their own for rape and sexual assault.
Even as the criminal charges began to mount, Weinstein’s legal team was working hard to silence the sex abuse survivors’ claims. On May 23, 2019, the Washington Post reported a tentative agreement to settle the lawsuits against him and his former studio for $44 million. That included $30 million to go directly to the victims, with the remaining $14 million to cover legal fees. But even though the settlement had been revealed in federal bankruptcy court, its terms had not been finalized. Weinstein’s attorney called it an “economic agreement in principle” and claimed it would provide significant compensation to the victims to be paid from the companies’ insurance policies.
However, seven months later, on December 11, 2019, the matter was still not resolved. Instead, the New York Times reported another tentative global settlement -- this time for just $25 million. The Times clarified that the overall $47 million settlement included all the company’s obligations under the bankruptcy, not just the sexual harassment and abuse lawsuits. The $25 million would cover more than 30 sex abuse survivors and would include any additional claimants who came forward in the coming months. Another $12 million of the total settlement would pay for Weinstein’s legal costs.
As a part of the global settlement, the sex abuse survivors must agree to dismiss their lawsuits against Weinstein, his company, and its board members. Eighteen plaintiffs would split $6.2 million, and another $18.5 million would be set aside for members of the class. Actress Katherine Kendall said:
“I don’t love it, but I don’t know how to go after him. . . . I don’t know what I can really do.”
The general consensus among the plaintiffs’ attorneys was that if the sex abuse survivors held out for more favorable terms, they may be left with nothing. They noted that Weinstein had threatened to file for bankruptcy personally in addition to the company’s bankruptcy filing. If he did so, it would leave the victims unable to collect on any civil judgements they did receive beyond the settlement.
But at least two women, Alexandra Canosa and Wedil David, say they intend to challenge the agreement. The settlement will also need to be approved by at least two judges -- the Delaware bankruptcy court and a federal court in New York. Those challenges could cause the settlement to fall apart, leaving the plaintiffs to pursue their cases individually or as part of the class action.
Nothing in the settlement will do anything to stop Weinstein’s criminal cases in New York and California. Prosecutors in those states may still subpoena the victims in their cases to testify, even if their civil claims have been resolved. However, the shorter statutes of limitations and higher burdens of proof in the criminal context mean that for many of Weinstein’s sex abuse survivors, this settlement will be the end of a very long road.
At ADZ Law, LLP, we understand the struggle sex abuse survivors face in deciding when, and how, to bring claims against their abusers. We can help you through the civil litigation process, advising you on whether to accept a settlement or fight for more at trial. We will also be there beside you through any criminal charges connected to your case. We represent sex abuse victims in San Mateo County and the surrounding region of California. We invite you to contact ADZ Law, LLP to schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can help you.