Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General

“Vox: The Weinstein Company Lawsuit Sends a Message: #MeToo is About More Than a Few Bad Men”

February 13, 2018

As published by Vox, on February 13, 2018.

Administering erectile dysfunction shots. Returning women’s clothing left behind after sexual encounters. Blocking out calendar space for sex.

These are just some of the duties Weinstein Company employees — most of them women — were expected to perform for Harvey Weinstein, according to a lawsuit filed on Sunday by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The Weinstein Company had been slated for sale on Sunday to a group of investors led by Maria Contreras-Sweet, who ran the Small Business Administration under President Obama, and including billionaire and longtime Weinstein associate Ron Burkle, according to Brooks Barnes and William Neuman of the New York Times. But Schneiderman’s office was concerned about the terms of the sale.

“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,” the attorney general said in a press release.

The suit doesn’t actually block a sale from going forward, but it might frighten investors from moving forward, according to the Times. Its 38 pages contain numerous reports of employees being expected to help Weinstein engage in sexual misconduct, and managers and executives looking the other way. Those who have come forward to report harassment and assault by Weinstein have long said the misconduct didn’t happen in a vacuum but was facilitated by veritable armies of enablers.

Schneiderman’s suit underscores their accounts, painting a picture of a company-wide problem that hasn’t necessarily been adequately addressed by Weinstein’s ouster in October after multiple women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. The suit asserts that Weinstein’s actions were enabled by a number of employees, from assistants all the way up to the executive level. It offers yet another reminder that workplace sexual harassment is often a systemic problem requiring systemic solutions, and that getting rid of individual perpetrators isn’t always enough.

According to the suit, Weinstein didn’t act alone

The result of a four-month investigation, the lawsuit builds on reports in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and elsewhere alleging that Weinstein Company employees knew about and sometimes helped facilitate sexual misconduct by their boss. The following are just some of the allegations in the suit, which uses the abbreviations HW for Harvey Weinstein and TWC for the Weinstein Company:

  • The Weinstein Company allegedly had a group of female employees, known by some as Weinstein’s “roster” or “wing women,” whose “primary responsibility included taking HW to parties at which he could meet young women, and introducing him to young women seeking opportunities at TWC with whom he could attempt to engage in sexual relations.” At one point, one of these women flew from London to New York to “to teach HW’s assistants how to dress and smell more attractive to HW,” the suit alleges.
  • Another group of employees, Weinstein’s assistants (also predominantly female), had to perform duties like making sure Weinstein had plenty of erectile dysfunction shots in his travel bag, “maintaining space on his calendar for sexual activity,” and preparing and cleaning up a room at the company’s offices for Weinstein’s sexual encounters, including returning items of women’s clothing that were left behind. One former employee was actually asked to give Weinstein the shots, according to the suit.
  • A third group, composed of female executives, were allegedly required “to meet with prospective sexual conquests in order to facilitate HW’s sexual activity, and to follow through on HW’s promise of employment opportunities to women who met with HW’s favor.” According to the suit, “the practice of sending female TWC executives to meetings with HW’s prospective sexual conquests was overt within the company. HW’s assistants were aware that HW would want a female executive to be present at the outset of any such meeting with a prospective sexual conquest, and were trained to ask HW which executives HW would want to have present at the meetings.”

The suit also alleges that senior executives at the company, including Weinstein’s brother and co-founder Bob Weinstein and David Glasser, the chief operating officer (referred to in the suit only by his title), knew about misconduct by Weinstein but did not take adequate action to protect employees.

  • In 2014 and 2015, according to the suit, Bob Weinstein was informed of “claims of repeated and persistent sexual harassment and misconduct, but he took no measures to further investigate the claims of misconduct, to terminate HW’s employment, to restrict or prohibit HW from supervising women or having or seeking sexual contact with TWC employees or women seeking to do business with TWC, or from HW having private meetings with employees or women seeking opportunities in hotel rooms or TWC office space.”
  • Part of Glasser’s job as COO was to handle harassment complaints passed up the chain of command by the human resources director, according to the suit. None of these complaints ever resulted in a formal investigation or any restrictions on Weinstein’s behavior, the suit alleges, though in 2015, Glasser and other executives did notify a member of the company’s board that they were concerned about numerous reports of misconduct by Weinstein.

The entire suit underscores a claim made in much of the reporting on Weinstein: He didn’t act alone. Instead, he allegedly deputized numerous female subordinates to arrange his sexual encounters for him, to put women at ease so they would be more vulnerable to his advances, and to make offers of professional benefits in exchange for sex. He was also allegedly supported by senior executives who fielded complaints about his behavior without taking sufficient action to stop it.

In the recent public conversation around #MeToo, sexual harassment has often been cast as an individual problem, one of isolated misdeeds committed by bad men. But Schneiderman’s suit depicts, instead, a company full of employees tasked with enabling or covering up misconduct. According to the suit, Weinstein made clear to some employees that they would face retaliation if they failed to play their roles. Other employees, especially senior executives and board members, may have played along for fear that rocking the boat would destroy a lucrative company — according to the suit, the company board’s failure investigate or sanction Weinstein was partly “due to concerns that HW’s removal, or even exposure of his misconduct, would risk harming the financial interests of company ownership.”

Whatever the case, Schneiderman’s suit presents a powerful argument that sexual misconduct at the Weinstein Company was a collective endeavor, and that simply removing Harvey Weinstein from the equation may not entirely fix the damage.

The suit sets a standard for companies looking to reform

Part of Schneiderman’s goal with the suit is to warn potential investors and the public that the terms of the Contreras-Sweet sale deal could hurt Weinstein Company employees and survivors who have reported abuse by Weinstein. The attorney general’s office has outlined several specific concerns. First of all, under the Contreras-Sweet deal, Bob Weinstein would leave the company but Glasser would remain. In the suit, Schneiderman argues that the sale could thus fail to protect employees “who would be reporting to some of the same managers (including TWC’s Chief Operating Officer (‘COO’)) who failed to investigate HW’s ongoing misconduct.”

Schneiderman’s office is also concerned that the Contreras-Sweet deal doesn’t include adequate compensation for victims. The would-be buyers have stated publicly that the deal will include multimillion-dollar settlement fund to compensate survivors, according to the Times. However, Schneiderman said in a press conference on Monday that the terms of the deal did not include a standalone victims’ fund, and that victims’ compensation would instead come out of insurance payouts, which would also need to cover legal fees and other expenses. The attorney general’s office is concerned there may not be sufficient money left over for survivors.

If it scuttles a sale, Schneiderman’s suit could lead to a bankruptcy for the Weinstein Company, the Times notes. As Anita Busch and Mike Fleming Jr. point out at Deadline, it’s not clear where that would leave the 150 to 200 employees still at the Weinstein Company.

Still, the suit and Schneiderman’s announcement set a kind of standard for companies looking to come back from sexual harassment allegations: They must make real restitution to survivors, ensure that employees are safe, and keep perpetrators from profiting from misdeeds. Whatever else it does, the suit sets forward publicly and in the voice of a state official what reform should look like, and it makes one thing clear: The removal of one man doesn’t turn a toxic environment into a safe one.