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New York attorney general files lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein, company

Last Updated Feb 12, 2018 1:21 AM EST

NEW YORK -- New York's attorney general has filed a lawsuit against Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Co. following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a release Sunday that the company "repeatedly broke New York law by failing to protect its employees from pervasive sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination."

"Any sale of The Weinstein Company must ensure that victims will be compensated, employees will be protected going forward, and that neither perpetrators nor enablers will be unjustly enriched," Schneiderman said in a news release. "Every New Yorker has a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment, intimidation, and fear."

Schneiderman launched a civil rights probe into the New York City-based company in October after The New York Times and The New Yorker exposed allegations of sexual assault and harassment spanning decades. The company later fired Weinstein.

The Weinstein Company responded with a statement saying, "We are disappointed that the New York Attorney General felt it necessary to file today's complaint. Many of the allegations relating to the Board are inaccurate and the Board looks forward to bringing the facts to light as part of its ongoing commitment to resolve this difficult situation in the most appropriate way. With respect to the Company's ongoing sale process, the Board sought a transaction to preserve jobs and create a victim fund. Any suggestion that the Company or its Board somehow impeded or discouraged the buyer's access to the New York Attorney General is simply untrue. Indeed, the Company and its Board actively encouraged the buyer to communicate with the Attorney General. The Company looks forward to continuing our discussions with the Attorney General in order to reach our common goal of bringing this situation to an appropriate resolution."

The attorney general's office said it brought the lawsuit Sunday partly due to reports of the company's imminent sale, saying it believed it would leave victims without adequate redress.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting a proposed sale of the Weinstein Co. fell apart Sunday after the suit was filed. According to the newspaper, "A group led by businesswoman Maria Contreras-Sweet was close to a deal to buy Weinstein Co. for about $500 million, including the assumption of debt, when the attorney general filed the suit Sunday, said a person close to the transaction.  Though the attorney general didn't seek a restraining order halting the sale, the lawsuit introduced too much uncertainty for the deal to go ahead, people close to the talks said."

Weinstein's attorney, Ben Brafman, claims the investigation will show that many of the allegations against his client are "without merit."

"While Mr. Weinstein's behavior was not without fault, there certainly was no criminality, and at the end of the inquiry it will be clear that Harvey Weinstein promoted more women to key executive positions than any other industry leader and there was zero discrimination at either Miramax or [The Weinstein Company]," Brafman said in a statement.

He added, "If the purpose of the inquiry is to encourage reform throughout the film industry, Mr. Weinstein will embrace the investigation. If the purpose however is to scapegoat Mr. Weinstein, he will vigorously defend himself."

Scores of women, including well-known actresses, have come forward with stories of forced sexual encounters. Weinstein was fired by the film company he founded with his brother Robert and expelled from Hollywood's movie academy.

"To work for Harvey Weinstein was to work under a persistent barrage of gender-based obscenities, vulgar name-calling, sexualized interactions, threats of violence, and a workplace general hostile to women," according to court papers.

Schneiderman's investigation found that employees were subjected to various verbal threats from Weinstein such as "I will kill you, I will kill your family, and "you don't know what I can do."

In one case, the probe found that "in a fit of rage against one female employee, he yelled that she should leave the company and make babies since that was all she was good for."

Female executives were forced to facilitate Weinstein's sexual conquests with promises of employment opportunities to women who met his favor, according to the lawsuit, which also accused the company of being "responsible for the unlawful conduct" by failing to stop the abuse.

The company and co-owner Robert "are liable because they were aware of and acquiesced in repeated and persistent unlawful conduct by failing to investigate or stop it," court papers said.

Representatives for Weinstein have previously denied all accusations of non-consensual sex.