A judge has rejected a legal challenge of a Toronto actress’ sexual assault lawsuit against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, his former assistant and two entertainment companies.
The decision delivered on Friday means the lawsuit, which alleges Weinstein sexually assaulted the actress nearly two decades ago, will proceed without changes to the woman’s statement of claim.
The challenge to the suit was launched by Weinstein’s former assistant, Barbara Schneeweiss, who argued that claims concerning her were not necessarily in relation to any alleged sexual assault and consequently were subject to a statute of limitations that had expired.
The judge who heard the case disagreed.
“Although the claims against Schneeweiss are not for the sexual assaults themselves, they all involve civil liability for actions that relate directly to Weinstein’s (alleged) sexual assaults,” Justice Patrick Monohan wrote.
The Toronto actress behind the lawsuit, who cannot be named, alleged Schneeweiss set up a meeting between her and Weinstein in 2000, despite having some degree of knowledge that it might lead to a sexual assault. The actress’s statement of claim alleges Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her without consent at that meeting.
Later, when the actress went with her agent and a friend to meet with Weinstein, expecting an apology, Schneeweiss allegedly conspired to get the actress in a room with Weinstein alone, at which point he attempted to stick his tongue down her throat, according to the woman’s statement of claim.
None of the allegations in the lawsuit, which also names entertainment companies Miramax and Disney as defendants, have been proven in court and no statements of defence have been filed in the case.
Under Ontario law, a plaintiff generally has two years from the time of an alleged incident to sue someone, but legislation passed in 2016 abolished any time limitation for filing a lawsuit for a matter relating to sexual violence or harassment.
Schneeweiss’ lawyer, Jonathan Rosenstein, had argued, however, that Schneeweiss’ alleged actions were not necessarily perpetrated “in relation” to any alleged sexual assault.
If Schneeweiss did not know that a sexual assault had taken place, but rather, had only heard rumours and hearsay about Weinstein’s alleged actions with women, she should be held liable only for allegedly failing to warn someone of potential harm, not for causing that harm to occur, Rosenstein said.
Monohan said the legislation that abolished time limits for sexual assault lawsuits was designed specifically to cover a wide range of allegations.
“The clear objective of this provision is to ensure that victims of sexual assault may pursue civil claims, not just against the perpetrators of the assaults but also against others who may be civilly liable in connection with the assaults,” he wrote. “All of the claims against Schneeweiss fall within the umbrella of (the legislation).”
The judge also rejected an argument from Rosenstein that the actress did not specify in her claim how much Schneeweiss allegedly knew about Weinstein’s alleged sexual activities.
“In my view, there is not ambiguity in the claim,” Monahan wrote.
The plaintiff is claiming Schneeweiss either actively facilitated Weinstein’s alleged sexual assault, or that the assistant “knew or ought to have known that Weinstein posed a serious risk of harm to (the plaintiff) and, rather than warning her of this risk, actively facilitated the circumstances that permitted the assaults to take place,” he noted.
Weinstein, an Oscar-winning film producer, faces sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations from several women.
On Oct. 8, he was fired from the Weinstein Company – the film studio he co-founded with his brother in 2005 – days after the New York Times published a story detailing some of the allegations against him. Weinstein’s representative Sallie Hofmeister has said Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex.