New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Monday announced his office has opened an investigation into the film studio co-founded by Harvey Weinstein to examine whether the company violated state civil rights laws, or New York City Human Rights Law.
Schneiderman’s office subpoenaed The Weinstein Co. to investigate whether the allegations of sexual harassment against its co-founder is a broader issue within the company, according to a person familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak publicly.
The subpoena issued by the attorney general’s civil rights bureau seeks documentation, records and correspondence related to all complaints related to sexual harassment or other discrimination based on gender or age, the source said. Schneiderman’s office is also requesting any documents related to how either sexual or discrimination complaints were handled and whether an informal or formal investigation was initiated or not, and all records relating to settlements or other dispositions, the person said.
The list of documents requested also include personnel files, as well as the criteria for hiring, promotion and casting by The Weinstein Co. and reasons for rejected applicants or termination of employees.
Elkan Abramowitz, a partner at Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello who was hired by Weinstein in 2015 to fend off the harassment allegations, told the New York Law Journal Monday afternoon that he was not representing the company or Weinstein in the attorney general’s investigation.
A spokesman for Boies Schiller Flexner, whose name partner and chairman, David Boies, has represented The Weinstein Co. and Weinstein previously, did not immediately respond when asked if either Boies or the firm is representing the company in the investigation. Boies also did not respond to a request for comment, nor did The Weinstein Co.
The investigation by the Attorney General’s Office comes weeks after The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine reported that Weinstein has faced allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted touching of actresses and employees spanning decades. Weinstein also had made payments in settlements with victims, according to the Times, in exchange for their silence on the matter.
Since then, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has faced public scrutiny for deciding not to file charges against Weinstein after the movie mogul was recorded in an NYPD sting seeming to acknowledge forcibly touching an Italian actress in 2015. It was later reported Boies was among the top contributors to Vance’s election campaigns and that Abramowitz, a former law partner of Vance’s, whom Weinstein hired in 2015 to combat the touching allegations, donated nearly $26,000 to Vance between March 2008 and May 2017, along with many other law firms.
Amid allegations that Weinstein, whose studio produced films like “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love,” sexually harassed and assaulted several women, he was fired by his company’s board of directors and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“No New Yorker should be forced to walk into a workplace ruled by sexual intimidation, harassment, or fear. If sexual harassment or discrimination is pervasive at a company, we want to know,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
Published reports say police probes also have been opened in New York, London and Los Angeles.
In Albany, several proposals have been introduced in light of the allegations against Weinstein.
Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of Queens and state Sen. Brad Hoylman of Manhattan, both Democrats, are sponsoring a bill that would make any contract void if an employer forces an employee to keep quiet about sexual harassment and discrimination claims. The new language to an already existing bill would include claims that are settled in arbitration, where nondisclosure agreements keep the details of the events private.
Rozic on Monday also introduced legislation to provide people in the modeling industry protection against sexual and other forms of harassment. Models are typically considered independent contractors, thus excluding them from anti-harassment and discrimination protections. Rozic’s bill would make it an unlawful discriminatory practice for modeling entities, whether it be a management agency or a company, to subject a model to harassment regardless of whether they are an employee or independent contractor.
For years, Albany was plagued with its own scandals regarding sexual harassment and secret sexual harassment settlements. Former Assemblyman Vito Lopez had been censured by the Assembly after being accused of sexually harassing two women who worked in his district office. The censure had come months after Lopez reached a secret $103,000 sexual harassment settlement with two other women, which included a $20,000 fine if Lopez or either of the women went public with the agreement or the allegations.
Kevin Mintzer, who has his own practice in New York City where he represents victims of discrimination and abuse and who represented two of Lopez’s victims, said Rozic and Hoylman’s bill is well intentioned, but could make sexual harassment cases harder to settle.
“Banning nondisclosure agreements may seem like an appealing idea in light of the Weinstein and [similarly accused Fox News commentator Bill] O’Reilly situations, but doing so may have unintended consequences. If NDAs are prohibited and employers conclude that harassment allegations are likely to become public no matter how they handle an internal complaint,” said Mintzer, “some employers may decide that they are better off contesting allegations in court rather than agreeing to settle. Banning NDAs may therefore force some victims of sexual harassment to litigate claims that otherwise could have been resolved without a lawsuit.”