Today, a class of women in the entertainment industry who sued Harvey Weinstein over allegations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape announced they have reached an $18.875 million settlement with Harvey Weinstein, The Weinstein Company Holdings LLC (TWC), and certain former officers, directors and employees of TWC.
Plaintiffs Louisette Geiss, Sarah Ann Thomas, Melissa Thompson, Melissa Sagemiller, Nannette May, Katherine Kendall, Caitlin Dulany, Larissa Gomes and a Jill Doe filed their motion for preliminary approval of the class action settlement today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. If approved by the court, the settlement will create a victims fund allowing all women who were abused by Harvey Weinstein under certain circumstances to make claims for damages in a confidential and non-adversarial process.
Filed in November 2017, the class action lawsuit alleges that Harvey Weinstein was a serial sexual harasser and abuser, and the various companies with which he was affiliated, as well as certain respective current and former officers and directors, failed to stop or prevent his actions in violation of federal and state law.
Supporting the settlement is the New York State Office of the Attorney General, which sued Harvey Weinstein in February 2018 for creating a hostile work environment at TWC, and sued TWC for failing to stop the unwanted sexual conduct in violation of state and city human rights laws.
This settlement is the culmination of several years of hard work by survivors who not only initiated the #MeToo movement around Weinstein, but also used their platforms to seek justice for all of those who were afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation in Hollywood, said Elizabeth A. Fegan, FeganScotts founding partner and managing member. The plaintiffs use of the class action to negotiate a confidential process where all survivors can apply for meaningful relief was truly selfless and a victory for all women in Hollywood.
The women who brought this case ignited a movement and changed public discourse regarding sexual harassment and abuse. They are heroes. Today, their bravery and willingness to advocate for a better world for all women achieved a fund for all survivors like them, said Whitney K. Siehl, member of Hagens Bermans sexual abuse practice. This settlement allows all survivors the opportunity to engage in a confidential and trauma-informed process to obtain recompense, and we believe this fund will help shape future models in sexual harassment settlements, standing as a testament to the power of women speaking their truth.
The settlements two-tier claim structure allows class members to choose whether, and in how much detail, they want to share their stories:
- Tier 1 Claims: Each Settlement Class Member has the option to submit a claim form online or via U.S. Mail, describing the claimants experience, the impact, and/or the damages the claimant suffered. If the claimant chooses, they can include documentation in support of the claim form. That claim form will be reviewed by a court-appointed Special Master or designee. Payments of $7,500 to $150,000 may be awarded based on the Special Masters review and pro rata adjustments.
- Tier 2 Claims: Alternatively, each Settlement Class Member may submit a claim form, supporting documentation, and submit to an interview by the Special Master regarding the class members experience and the impact of the events. Payments of $7,500 to $750,000 may be awarded based on the Special Masters review and pro rata adjustments.
Absent the class action settlement, many women who were harassed or abused by Harvey Weinstein would be unlikely to recover any money, according to Fegan and Siehl.
The class action faced strong headwinds in court, where all claims older than 10 years, and outside the statute of limitations, were dismissed. Additionally, the court dismissed TWCs former representatives from the suit, significantly reducing the amount available for the settlement.
Despite initial setbacks, we continued to fight, said Fegan. The women who brought this class action remained steadfast in their pursuit of justice for all victims of Harvey Weinstein, even in the face of public attacks to discredit them.
I stepped up publicly because I could not allow Harvey Weinstein to deny the truth and continue abusing women, said Louisette Geiss, one of the plaintiffs who helped spearhead the survivors work in the class action and who later became co-chair of the Unsecured Creditors Committee in the TWC bankruptcy proceedings. A criminal case was not on the table for most of us, but we wanted to take a stand. Building the survivors fund was a roller coaster of challenges, but in the end, Im very grateful to our amazing legal team and my fellow silence breakers for the groundbreaking settlement we filed today.”
Ms. Geiss met with Harvey Weinstein at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, after he expressed interest in her music company, a script she was pitching and her acting career. However, Weinstein then isolated Geiss and masturbated in front of her while restraining her. Similarly, Plaintiff Caitlin Dulany met with Harvey Weinstein in 1996 at the Cannes Film Festival, after he had become a mentor to her. There, Weinstein isolated and assaulted Dulany, leaving her terrified and ashamed for more than 20 years.
When I came forward and shared my story about the assault, I knew there wouldnt be a straight path to justice, said Ms. Dulany. Harvey avoided accountability for decades, leveraging his power to hide behind a web of deceit, and I was determined to join the class action to ensure meaningful change for all survivors. I am proud that this settlement will help so many women who are long overdue for justice and relief.
Notably, the settlement ensures the survivors will be compensated even though TWC and certain affiliates filed voluntary petitions for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in March 2018. Absent the settlement, any sexual misconduct claims against TWC would be compensated only after secured creditors were paid in full. Because sexual misconduct survivors are considered unsecured creditors, the plaintiffs would be lumped with the estimated $250 million in unsecured creditor claims already filed in the bankruptcy proceedings.
The hard work and determination of these courageous women will continue to empower others, Siehl said. Women have broken the silence, and this precedent will echo louder as it inspires survivors like them to pursue justice.
The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York will decide whether to grant preliminary approval of the settlement. If preliminarily approved, the Court will order that notice of the settlement be provided to the settlement class and will set deadlines for claims to be submitted or objections to be made to the settlement. The Court will then hold a fairness hearing to decide whether to grant final approval of the settlement. After preliminary approval, updates can be found at www.weinsteinclaims.com or www.feganscott.com or www.hbsslaw.com/weinstein.¯
FeganScott is a national class action law firm dedicated to helping victims of consumer fraud, sexual abuse, and discrimination. The firm is championed by acclaimed veteran, class action attorneys who have successfully recovered $1 billion for victims nationwide. FeganScott is committed to pursuing successful outcomes with integrity and excellence while holding the responsible parties accountable.
About Hagens Berman¯
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a national plaintiffs class-action law firm with nine offices across the country helping survivors of various kinds of fraud, negligence, abuse and sexual harassment pursue their legal rights. The firm has achieved more than $206 billion in settlements for its clients since its founding in 1993. Hagens Berman led the landmark sexual harassment class action against USC resulting in a $215 million settlement with the university and its former full-time gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall, and the firms tenacious drive has earned it numerous national accolades, awards and titles of Most Feared Plaintiffs Firm, and MVPs and Trailblazers of class-action law. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.