Six women on Wednesday sued Harvey Weinstein and the film studio he co-founded, alleging a vast “Weinstein Sexual Enterprise” that enabled the movie producer to sexually assault and harass women for decades.
The federal lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, seeks class action status, saying the six plaintiffs represent “hundreds” of women who were also victimized by Weinstein.
The plaintiffs are Zoe Brock, Louisette Geiss, Katherine Kendall, Nannette Klatt, Sarah Ann Masse and Melissa Sagemiller.
The lawsuit — filed against the movie mogul, The Weinstein Company and its current and former board of directors, and Miramax, the Disney-owned production company previously co-owned by Weinstein — accused him, some of his employees as well as associates, of engaging in a pattern of harassment, extortion and cover-up, equating it to racketeering.
“Weinstein’s widespread sexual misconduct did not occur without the help of others,” the lawsuit said. “Rather, over time, Weinstein enlisted the aid of the Complicit Producers, along with other firms and individuals, to facilitate and conceal his pattern of unwanted sexual conduct.”
The “defendants were aware of Weinstein’s pattern of using his power to coerce and force young women to engage in sexual acts with him,” the lawsuit said. “This knowledge was possessed by Miramax and TWC’s Board of Directors.”
The lawsuit alleged that the six women — actresses and others in the film industry — were invited to office meetings, industry events, and hotel rooms under the guise of auditioning or discussing projects and potential employment with Weinstein. But once alone with him, the women alleged, he cornered them and pressured them for sexual favors, then threatened them when they refused.
“Without me, you will never work again,” Klatt alleged Weinstein told her during an audition after she refused his demand that she take off her clothes.
In October, Weinstein was fired by The Weinstein Company, which he co-founded with his brother, Bob Weinstein, after dozens of women — some of them famous actresses — publicly accused him of sexual misconduct stretching over several decades.
At least 75 women have come forward in the news media to detail accounts of assault, harassment and inappropriate conduct, according to The Associated Press, and police in New York as well as Beverly Hills, London and Los Angeles are investigating.
Representatives for Weinstein and The Weinstein Company did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment.
In an email, a spokeswoman for Miramax said the company “joins the entire film community in condemning Harvey Weinstein and his unspeakable actions,”
The women are suing for battery, assault, negligent supervision and retention, and infliction of emotional distress, arguing that Weinstein, his associates and the companies essentially behaved like an organized crime syndicate.
Current and former board of directors named in the lawsuit are James Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks, Bob Weinstein, Dirk Ziff, Tim Sarnoff, Marc Lasry, Tarak Ben Ammar, Lance Maerov, Richard Koenigsberg, Paul Tudor Jones and Jeff Sackman.
The women issued a joint statement Wednesday, saying the film companies and some people who work in the industry knew of Weinstein’s pattern of behavior, but kept silent or covered it up.
“One thing is clear: to create a permanent change in the culture, we need to send a message to the powerful and wealthy individuals, companies and industries that feted their Harvey Weinstein, instead of protecting the victims,” the women said.