A Los Angeles federal judge Wednesday dismissed a sexual harassment claim from Ashley Judd’s lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein, but ruled the actress can proceed with her allegations the disgraced producer defamed her and ruined her chance for a role in the “Lord of the Rings” film series.
U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez left open the chance for Judd to re-file her sexual harassment allegation, but he questioned the applicability of the state harassment law to the actress’ accusations against Weinstein. He noted that the law cited in the lawsuit “has never before been applied to an employer’s sexual harassment of a prospective employee, and the court is not convinced that the statute was intended to cover such harassment.”
Judd claims 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.
In court Tuesday, Weinstein attorney Phyllis Kupferstein argued that the producer’s alleged conduct toward Judd did not rise to the legal standard of sexual harassment.
Judd attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. countered that Weinstein was a “self-proclaimed godfather … there’s not many people who had that power at the time” — and his actions towards Judd amounted to “severe sexual harassment” under the statute at issue in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.
Gutierrez ruled that Judd can proceed with her defamation and interference claims against Weinstein. Judd contends that Weinstein defamed her and hurt her career in 1998 by telling “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson that the actress was a “nightmare” to work with.
Kupferstein argued that the claim is outside the statute of limitations, since it allegedly occurred in 1998, and also contended that Judd made no attempt at the time to investigate exactly why the director did not cast her. Judd countered that she did not learn of the alleged comment until Jackson mentioned it in a December 2017 media interview.
In his ruling, Gutierrez said it is plausible that Judd may not have known about the alleged comment in the late 1990s, accepting her contention that Jackson and his wife — writer/producer Fran Walsh — were unlikely to reveal details of a confidential conversation they had “with a powerful figure who carries influence over them.”
“At this point, no evidence has been presented about whether it is common in the industry for actors to inquiry into why they were not cast, and further, no evidence has been presented as to whether Jackson and Walsh would have informed plaintiff about defendant’s statements had she asked them why she was not given a role in the `Lord of the Rings’ films,” Gutierrez wrote. “Taking plaintiff’s allegations as true — as the court must at this stage — the court concludes that she has raised a plausible inference that she would not have been able to learn about defendant’s statements during the limitations period, even if she had conducted diligent investigation.”
Boutrous argued Tuesday that at the time she was turned down for a role in “Lord of the Rings,” she had “no reason to believe that Harvey Weinstein was secretly smearing her.” Judd alleges the comment was made in retaliation for her rejection of his sexual advances. “It’s all about retaliation,” Boutrous said. Boutrous said Jackson had confirmed to members of his legal team that Weinstein had indeed made the “nightmare” comment, which caused “tangible, immediate harm” to Judd’s career because the “Rings” director “viewed it as a serious factual statement.”
Kupferstein responded that the plaintiff’s allegation that Judd’s career stalled because she was not cast in “Lord of the Rings” was simply “not plausible.”
Weinstein is facing sexual assault charges in New York, and he is under investigation by authorities in London and Los Angeles. He has repeatedly denied ever engaging in non-consensual sexual activity.
Judd was one of the first women to come forward with harassment allegations against him.