Harvey Weinstein failed to have a federal court judge throw out actress Ashley Judd’s lawsuit, which accuses the disgraced Hollywood producer of defaming her and interfering with her ability to land a part in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Judge Philip Gutierrez issued a ruling today that allows Judd to proceed with her defamation and interference claims against Weinstein. The district court judge tossed out Judd’s sexual harassment claim, saying that a 1990s hotel room encounter in which Weinstein allegedly attempted to physically assault the actress did not fit the legal definition of workplace sexual harassment.
Gutierrez granted a request from Judd’s attorney to amend her sexual harassment complaint (read the ruling here).
“We are very pleased that today the District Court held that Ashley Judd can proceed with her lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein and continue her effort to vindicate the wrongs he committed against her among so many other women,” said Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., Judd’s attorney. “We are also pleased that the court gave us an opportunity to amend our complaint and present additional facts related to one of Ms. Judd’s claims.”
With repeated inquiries as to the limitations of the state sexual harassment statute at Wednesday’s hearing in downtown Los Angeles, Boutrous anticipated an amended complaint might be in the future. The Gibson Dunn partner promised such a new filing would contain a deep dive into “the nature of relationships in Hollywood in more detail.”
Judd filed a lawsuit against Weinstein in April, alleging that his pattern of retaliation, defamation, and sabotage against women who refused his sexual advances damaged her career.
The suit’s claims partly hinge on the news reports about Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh wanting to cast Judd in their Lord of the Rings movies backed by Weinstein’s Miramax in 1998. In retaliation for Judd rebuffing Weinstein, he “torpedoed Ms. Judd’s incredible professional opportunity,” when he told Jackson and Walsh that his studio had had a ‘bad experience’ with Judd, and that actress was a ‘nightmare’ to work with and should be avoided ‘at all costs.’ ”
Weinstein’s lawyers attempted to get the lawsuit tossed, arguing that too much time has passed for her to bring a legal claim seeking damages for allegedly ruining her career. His attorneys argued she waited 20 years to file suit over the alleged defamatory statements, and that the claims should be dismissed because too much time had passed. Judd could have asked, years ago, why she didn’t land the coveted role.
Judd noted, in her legal documents, that she learned belatedly about the damaging remarks from a December 2017 interview with Jackson. She said she couldn’t have inquired about not being cast in the role, for fear of alienating the director and negatively affecting his willingness to work with her in the future.
“Plaintiff has alleged that Jackson and Walsh would not have revealed the contents of their confidential conversation with Defendant had she asked them why she had not been cast. The Court find this allegation plausible,” Gutierrez wrote. “Individuals often do not reveal the content of their confidential conversations, especially when the conversation is with a powerful figure who carries influence over them and includes derogatory information about the person inquiring about it.”
The judge similarly let the defamation claim proceed, saying Judd’s allegations “are sufficient to give rise to an inference of actual malice such that the common interest privilege cannot bar her claims at the motion to dismiss stage.”
Gutierrez did agree with Weinstein’s attorneys that, at the time of the hotel-room encounter, the producer and actress were not in a business relationship, as defined by California statute, despite her arguments about the power-dynamic and Weinstein’s influence. He did, however, leave open the possibility of amending the harassment complaint.