Two years after a judge dismissed Ashley Judd’s sexual harassment claim against Harvey Weinstein, the actor and activist has won her appeal to pursue the case.
Earlier this year, Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison after being found guilty of third degree rape and first degree criminal sexual act. It came two years after the allegations against the movie producer sent shockwaves through Hollywood and triggered a global #MeToo movement.
At the time, it felt like some sort of justice was being achieved for the victims of Weinstein’s abuse. But it is only now, four months after the sentencing, that Ashley Judd – one of the first people to publicly accuse Weinstein – has won her claim to pursue her sexual harassment claim against Weinstein.
Judd filed a lawsuit against the disgraced film producer in April 2018, accusing him of having “torpedoed her incredible professional opportunity” after she refused his sexual advances in 1998.
She also sued for defamation and retaliation, claiming that Weinstein effectively blacklisted her in the film industry.
Judge Philip Gutierrez allowed Judd to proceed with the retaliation and defamation claims, but threw out the sexual harassment claim on the grounds that California law did not cover a producer and an actress who did not have an active employment relationship. The law has since been amended to explicitly cover producers and actors.
But as reported in Variety, on Wednesday (29 July 2020) an appeals court ruled that Judd can now pursue her harassment claim.
“Their relationship consisted of an inherent power imbalance wherein Weinstein was uniquely situated to exercise coercion or leverage over Judd by virtue of his professional position and influence as a top producer in Hollywood,” wrote Judge Mary H. Murguia on behalf of the panel.
“Therefore, the district court erred when it dismissed Judd’s sexual harassment claim.”
In its ruling, the three-judge panel said the producer-actor relationship has a similar power imbalance to the relationships that were enumerated in the statute at the time, such as teacher-student and landlord-tenant relationships.
“That is, by virtue of his professional position and influence as a top producer in Hollywood, Weinstein was uniquely situated to exercise coercive power or leverage over Judd, who was a young actor at the beginning of her career at the time of the alleged harassment,” Murguia explained.
“Moreover, given Weinstein’s highly influential and ‘unavoidable’ presence in the film industry, the relationship was one that would have been difficult to terminate ‘without tangible hardship’ to Judd, whose livelihood as an actor depended on being cast for roles.”
The case will now head back to the lower court and proceed on all claims.