The Weinstein Sex Scandal is Far From Over

While some have commented that in spite of the continuing sexual assault and harassment claims against Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein, it would be difficult to build a criminal case, that doesn’t mean there will be no legal ramifications. It is very likely that Weinstein’s alleged mistreatment of women will lead to costly civil lawsuits that could have severe consequences for both the executive himself and his namesake film and TV company due to the significant potential liability involved.

According to California law, Weinstein Co. could be held liable for Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment. Whether or not alleged victims could bring a lawsuit against 65-year-old Weinstein would depend on the California statute of limitations for civil sexual assault (2 years in California, although Weinstein has also been accused of similar behavior in New York where the state of limitations is 3 years). Experts in sexual assault and the law expect to see a flood of lawsuits head Weinstein’s way unless he has already settled with the victims outside of court.

Possibly to minimize any more legal trouble, Weinstein Co., fired Weinstein after a New York Times investigation discovered that Weinstein had reached a minimum of 8 legal settlements dating back to 1990 over various instances of alleged sexual harassment. The New Yorker published a story that included an array of allegations, but one stood out from the rest. The respected news outlet reported that Weinstein had raped 3 women in the last 2 decades, including well known actress, Asia Argento, from the 1999 drama “B. Monkey” distributed by Miramax. Weinstein has previously apologized for “his behavior,” but does deny claims of rape, stating that he believed all the relationships to be consensual.

Weinstein Co.’s board or directors publicly stated that they were shocked and dismayed by the allegations being made and that they supported investigations into the alleged acts.

If you have questions about sexual harassment or misconduct in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Sexual Harassment Case Results in $300,000 Punitive Damages Despite Nominal Damages Award

In the State of Arizona v. ASARCO LLC, 2014 WL 6918577 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc) Angela Aguilar claimed she was sexually harassed on the job, experienced workplace retaliation, was subjected to purposeful infliction of emotional distress and was finally terminated from employment after approximately 11 months working in a copper mine.

The trial, lasting eight days, ending with the jury finding ASARCO liable on sexual harassment claims (violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act), but not on constructive termination or retaliation claims made by Aguilar. Ms. Angela Aguilar was awarded $1 in nominal damages and $868,750 in punitive damages. Based on the statutory cap that can be found in 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D), the district court reduced the award to $300,000.

ASARCO cited BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996) as they argued for appeal that the 300,000 to 1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages was in violation of due process rights. The United States Court of Appeals did allow that the cited “Gore” case was of relevance to the context of the case, but clearly noted a differentiation between the two saying that Aguilar, the plaintiff in the case against ASARCO, had asserted a claim (under a statute, Title VII, including provision § 1981 imposing a cap on punitive damages. Using this as a basis for argument, the due process issues that were raised in the Gore case are not applicable to employment discrimination claims filed under Title VII.

The Court also noted that the jury was given instruction from the district court not to award any nominal damages over $1 to the plaintiff, Aguilar. The Court also found no mistake in the district court’s admission of sexually explicit graffiti in bathrooms as evidence. The graffiti used as evidence was similar to the graffiti that was directed at Aguilar. The Court affirmed the award to Aguilar of $350,902.75 for attorney’s fees and other costs.

For additional information on sexual harassment in the workplace and how to handle hostile work environments in California contact your southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik