Sexual misconduct scandals

Ashley Judd sues Harvey Weinstein

Ashley Judd at the 90th Academy Awards this year. The actress appeared in Weinstein films such as Frida (2002) and Crossing Over (2009).
Ashley Judd at the 90th Academy Awards this year. The actress appeared in Weinstein films such as Frida (2002) and Crossing Over (2009).PHOTO: REUTERS

Actress says the disgraced movie mogul defamed her after she rejected his sexual advances

LOS ANGELES • She could have been involved in a multi-billion-dollar franchise that earned a ringing endorsement from Hollywood, winning 17 Academy Award statuettes.

On Monday, actress Ashley Judd, one of the first women to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, sued the disgraced mogul, saying he defamed her after she rejected his sexual advances.

The complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in Santa Monica, accuses Weinstein, 66, of ruining her chance to be cast in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy - the first of which was released in 2001 - by making false statements to director Peter Jackson that he had had a bad experience with Judd, calling her a "nightmare".

"With those baseless smears, Weinstein succeeded in blacklisting Ms Judd and destroying her ability to work on what became a multi-billion-dollar franchise with 17 Academy Award wins and many more nominations," the suit stated.

The document went on to describe the "pathetic reality" that Weinstein was retaliating after Judd, now 50, rejected his sexual advances a year earlier, when he allegedly cornered her in a hotel room under the guise of discussing business.

"A self-described 'benevolent dictator' who has bragged that 'I can be scary', Weinstein used his power in the entertainment industry to damage Ms Judd's reputation and limit her ability to find work," it added.

The actress is also suing Weinstein for violating California's broadly written Unfair Competition law, which prohibits "unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business acts and practices".

Unfair competition has not historically been applied to the area of sexual harassment and retaliation.

"Ashley is fighting back, but she also wants to point the way for others," Mr Theodore Boutrous Jr, the lead lawyer representing her in the suit, said.

Mr Boutrous, who is known for his high-profile work for companies such as Walmart and Apple and for pushing the courts on issues such as same-sex marriage, added that "if this isn't an example of unfair business practice, then I don't know what is".

Judd said in a prepared statement that any damages she wins will go to the Time's Up legal fund "so that women and men in all professions may have legal redress for sexual harassment, economic retaliation and damage to their careers".

Weinstein has previously denied having any input in casting decisions involving The Lord Of The Rings, which began pre-production work under Miramax - a boutique studio run by Weinstein and then owned by Disney - but later moved to New Line Cinema.

It is rare for people to recover damages for smear campaigns - for instance, quietly labelling actresses as "difficult" when they do not acquiesce to powerful men - because of how complicated it can be to prove the action took place, let alone directly harmed someone's career.

But Judd has an A-list director on her side: Jackson. The Oscar winner worked with Weinstein and his brother Bob early in the development of The Lord Of The Rings and has said the pair acted like "second-rate Mafia bullies".

The New Zealand director said he had no direct knowledge of sexual misconduct allegations against Weinstein, but that the producer pressured him not to hire Judd or Mira Sorvino.

"I recall Miramax telling us they were a nightmare to work with and we should avoid them at all costs. This was probably in 1998," Jackson was quoted as telling Fairfax New Zealand.

"At the time, we had no reason to question what these guys were telling us - but in hindsight, I realise that this was very likely the Miramax smear campaign in full swing."

He spoke out in December as the number of women accusing the fallen mogul swelled to more than 100, with allegations ranging from harassment to rape.

Reacting to Jackson's comments, Sorvino, 50, tweeted: "There it is, confirmation that Harvey Weinstein derailed my career, something I suspected, but was unsure.

"Thank you, Peter Jackson, for being honest. I'm just heartsick."

Weinstein's spokesman pointed out at the time that Judd appeared in two subsequent Weinstein films - Frida (2002) and Crossing Over (2009) - and said Sorvino was also considered for other films.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2018, with the headline 'Ashley Judd sues Harvey Weinstein'. Print Edition | Subscribe