Actress Ashley Judd’s sexual harassment lawsuit against convicted rapist and former producer Harvey Weinstein can proceed, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
Judd sued Weinstein in 2018 for sexual harassment and defamation, accusing Weinstein of trying to coerce her into massaging him and watching him shower in the mid-1990s.
When she refused, Judd said Weinstein hurt her career by telling people she was difficult to work with, including “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson. He said Weinstein advised him against casting Judd in the fantasy trilogy, The Associated Press reported.
A lower-court judge threw out the harassment portion of Judd’s lawsuit but a three-judge panel on Wednesday ruled that she could sue under a California law that applies to defendants other than employers.
The panel agreed with Judd that the alleged harassment qualified under the law because Weinstein was not directly employing Judd at the time but that, as a famed kingmaker in the industry, he was in a position of power over her.
“Weinstein was uniquely situated to exercise coercive power or leverage over Judd, who was a young actor at the beginning of her career at the time of the alleged harassment,” U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia wrote in the opinion, according to the AP.
“Moreover, given Weinstein’s highly influential and ‘unavoidable’ presence in the film industry, the relationship was one that would have been difficult to terminate ‘without tangible hardship’ to Judd, whose livelihood as an actor depended on being cast for roles,” Murguia wrote.
“This is an important victory not only for Ms. Judd but for all victims of sexual harassment in professional relationships,” Judd’s lawyer Theodore Boutrous Jr. said in a statement. “The court correctly holds that California law forbids sexual harassment and retaliation by film producers and others in powerful positions, even outside the employment context, and we look forward to pursuing this claim against Mr. Weinstein at trial.”
Weinstein was convicted in New York in February of criminal sexual assault in the first degree and rape in the third degree, and has separate criminal charges pending in California. He has denied all allegations.