Ashley Judd was one of the first actresses to speak publicly about perv movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s atrocious, harassing behavior; in fact, the New York Times’ bombshell investigative article leads off with Judd’s story. Judd rebuffed Weinstein’s advances and went on to a successful career, but only had small parts in two Miramax films. A few months after the New York Times story, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson told a New Zealand publication that “Miramax” had told him to stay away from both Judd and another Weinstein accuser, Mira Sorvino, and that they were “nightmares” to work with.
Armed with this new information, Judd filed a lawsuit against Weinstein in California Superior Court, claiming defamation, retaliation, and sexual harassment, in April 2018. The suit was moved to federal court upon Weinstein’s attorneys’ diversity motion. Weinstein’s attorneys filed a Motion to Dismiss in July, and Judge Phillip S. Gutierrez issued a ruling Wednesday allowing the defamation and retaliation claims to proceed, but dismissing the sexual harassment claim unless Judd files an amended complaint before October 19.
Although the suit is now in federal court, California state law applies. It’s notoriously difficult to survive a motion to dismiss in a defamation case in California, so the ruling is noteworthy in that regard.
Judge Gutierrez dismissed Judd’s sexual harassment claim because Weinstein was a prospective employer, not a current employer.
“The temporary nature of a prospective employment relationship is qualitatively different than the often-more-permanent relationships common with the categories of individuals explicitly listed in the statute.”
Weinstein’s legal team also objected to the retaliation and defamation claims as being outside the statute of limitations. Judd’s attorneys argued:
“While Ms. Judd was all too aware of Weinstein’s harassing conduct towards her in the late 1990s at the Peninsula Hotel, what she did not know until December 2017 was that Weinstein secretly retaliated against her. That realization did not happen, and could not have happened, until Peter Jackson disclosed that Weinstein smeared Ms. Judd’s professional reputation and poisoned her chances of working with Mr. Jackson and Fran Walsh on the wildly successful ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and their future films.”
Judge Gutierrez agreed that it was plausible that Judd wasn’t aware of the comments made to Jackson until the December 2017 interview was published.
Weinstein argued that if he had made a comment about Judd being a “nightmare” to work with, that is an opinion, and as such isn’t subject to a defamation claim. Judd’s attorneys presented evidence that Judd had no previous professional interaction with Weinstein so any “opinion” would be a fabrication, and a tortious interference in her business relationships.
In the Times article, Judd said when she was filming 1997’s Kiss the Girls Weinstein invited her to breakfast, ostensibly to talk about her working on an upcoming film. When she arrived at the Peninsula Hotel, Weinstein wanted to talk to her in his suite instead of at the hotel restaurant. Judd was reticent, she said, but ordered a bowl of cereal so she could be done with breakfast quickly and leave. Weinstein made multiple advances, and eventually Judd said she told him he could touch her after she won an Oscar in one of his movies as a ploy to get out of the room. Weinstein’s attorneys now say that wording represented Judd making a “deal” with Weinstein so it’s not sexual harassment. (Insert eye roll.)
Not long after that incident, Peter Jackson was considering casting both Judd and Mira Sorvino in Lord of the Rings, which Miramax controlled, but “blacklisted” both actresses at the recommendation of Miramax.
“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 said.
“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.
“I now suspect we were fed false information about both of these talented women – and as a direct result their names were removed from our casting list.”
Jackson has reportedly been in contact with Judd’s legal team, and may give testimony in the case.