LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Pasadena appeals court ruled today that Ashley Judd can pursue a sexual harassment claim against now-imprisoned former producer Harvey Weinstein, overturning a lower court's decision to toss the allegation from the actress' defamation lawsuit.
The three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the relationship between Judd and Weinstein “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,'' according to the 16-page ruling.
Two years ago, a Los Angeles federal judge dismissed the sexual harassment claim after finding that a California state law -- under which the claim was brought -- did not apply in Judd's case. The judge determined, however, that the actress could proceed with allegations that the disgraced producer defamed her and ruined her chance for a role in the “Lord of the Rings'' film series.
The California Civil Code statute was changed to specifically include directors and producers, but the judge said the revision could not be applied retroactively.
The appeals panel held that whether Judd and Weinstein's relationship was in fact an employment relationship was a question for the lower court, and returned the case to a Los Angeles federal courtroom.
In her April 2018 lawsuit, Judd alleges Weinstein made sexual advances toward her in 1997 at a Beverly Hills hotel while they were meeting to discuss potential film roles. She alleges that she managed to elude Weinstein by proposing a “mock contract'' by falsely telling him she would let him touch her when she won an Oscar for one of his films.
During arguments in May before the appeals court, Judd's attorney, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., argued that the statute at issue applied even without the new wording because it covered “business, service or professional relationships,'' which aptly described Judd and Weinstein's association in 1997.
Weinstein's attorney, Phyllis Kupferstein, countered that Judd had no professional relationship with her client at the time of the hotel meeting. Years earlier, Judd had worked on the movie “Smoke'' made by Miramax Films, which was founded by Weinstein and his brother.
“The relationship has to be existing at the time of the harassment,'' Kupferstein said, arguing that the “directors and producers'' wording of the statute cannot be applied retroactively.
Boutrous suggested that most Hollywood actors had some sort of tie to Weinstein, simply due to his previous stature in the industry.
Judd “couldn't sever her ties with Harvey Weinstein,'' Boutrous argued. “He was the gateway to professional success for actors. He was still the overlord of the film industry.''
Weinstein, 68, is currently serving a 23-year sentence in a prison near Buffalo, N.Y., for rape and sexual assault. He is facing five felony counts in Los Angeles involving alleged crimes with three women.
Judd was one of the first women to come forward with harassment allegations against him.
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