Business

Hollywood producer is accused of harassing women for decades

Harvey Weinstein in New York, March 26, 2015.
Benjamin Norman/The New York Times
Harvey Weinstein in New York, March 26, 2015.

NEW YORK — Two decades ago, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview.

“How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” Judd said she remembers thinking.

In 2014, Weinstein invited Emily Nestor, who had worked just one day as a temporary employee, to the same hotel and made another offer: If she accepted his sexual advances, he would boost her career, according to accounts she provided to colleagues, who sent them to Weinstein Co. executives. The following year, again at the Peninsula, a female assistant said Weinstein badgered her into giving him a massage while he was naked, leaving her “crying and very distraught,” wrote a colleague, Lauren O’Connor, in a memo asserting sexual harassment and other misconduct by their boss.

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“There is a toxic environment for women at this company,” O’Connor said in the letter, addressed to several executives at the company run by Weinstein.

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An investigation by The New York Times found previously undisclosed allegations against Weinstein stretching over nearly three decades, documented through interviews with current and former employees and film industry workers, as well as legal records, e-mails, and internal documents from the businesses he has run, Miramax and the Weinstein Co.

Weinstein has reached at least eight settlements with women, according to two company officials speaking on condition of anonymity. Among the recipients, The Times found, were a young assistant in New York in 1990, an actress in 1997, an assistant in London in 1998, an Italian model in 2015, and O’Connor shortly after, according to records and those familiar with the agreements.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Weinstein said: “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”

He added he was working with therapists and planning to take a leave of absence to “deal with this issue head on.”

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Lisa Bloom, a lawyer advising Weinstein, said in a statement that “he denies many of the accusations as patently false.” To The Times earlier this week, Weinstein said many claims in O’Connor’s memo were “off base,” and they parted on good terms.

He and his representatives declined to comment on any of the settlements. But Weinstein said that in addressing employee concerns, “my motto is to keep the peace.”

Though O’Connor had been writing only about a two-year period, her memo echoed other women’s complaints. Weinstein required her to have casting discussions with aspiring actresses after they had private appointments in his hotel room, she said, her description matching those of other former employees. She suspected that she and other female Weinstein employees, she wrote, were being used to facilitate liaisons with “vulnerable women who hope he will get them work.”

The allegations piled up even as Weinstein helped define popular culture. He has collected six best-picture Oscars and turned out a number of touchstones, from the films “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “Good Will Hunting” to the television show “Project Runway.”

In 2015, the year O’Connor wrote her memo, his company distributed “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about campus sexual assault. A longtime Democratic donor, he hosted a fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton in his Manhattan home last year. He employed Malia Obama, the older daughter of former president Barack Obama, as an intern this year and recently helped endow a faculty chair at Rutgers University in Gloria Steinem’s name. During the Sundance Film Festival in January, when Park City, Utah, held its version of the nationwide women’s marches, Weinstein joined the parade.

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“From the outside, it seemed golden — the Oscars, the success, the remarkable cultural impact,” said Mark Gill, former president of Miramax Los Angeles, which was then owned by Disney. “But behind the scenes, it was a mess, and this was the biggest mess of all,” he added, referring to Weinstein’s treatment of women.

Dozens of Weinstein’s former and current employees, from assistants to top executives, said they knew of inappropriate conduct while they worked for him. Only a handful said they ever confronted him. Most of the women involved in the Weinstein agreements collected between $80,000 and $150,000, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

After O’Connor’s 2015 memo, some Weinstein Co. board members and executives, including Weinstein’s brother and longtime partner, Bob, 62, were alarmed, said several people who spoke on condition of anonymity. But board members were assured there was no need to investigate. After reaching a settlement with Harvey Weinstein, O’Connor withdrew her complaint and thanked him for the career opportunity he had given her.

“The parties made peace very quickly,” Bloom said.

In speaking out about her hotel episode, Judd said in a recent interview, “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”