LOS ANGELES (CN) – Disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein must face defamation claims brought by actress Ashley Judd, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez’s ruling on Weinstein’s motion to dismiss comes just a day after a hearing on the motion.
Judd sued Weinstein this past April, claiming he torpedoed her career and made sure she lost out on acting jobs because she rejected his sexual advances in the late 1990s during a meeting in a hotel room. The 50-year-old Judd says Weinstein, now 66, told directors she was “a nightmare” to work with, causing her professional and economic harm.
According to Judd, Weinstein’s words to “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson and co-producer Fran Walsh, cost her a key role in that trilogy – a fact she says she only learned about in December 2017.
During oral arguments on Tuesday, Weinstein’s attorney Phyllis Kupferstein of Kupferstein Manuel said any comments Weinstein might have made were privileged under the common interest doctrine and were nonactionable statements.
But on Wednesday, Gutierrez found Judd’s complaint makes enough of a case of actual malice by Weinstein to move forward.
“The crux of plaintiff’s defamation claim is that defendant intentionally made false statements to Jackson and Walsh for the purpose of sabotaging her chances of being cast in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films,” wrote Gutierrez.
Judd only needs to show a plausible inference that she would have been unable to learn about Weinstein’s comments to Jackson and Walsh to survive a dismissal motion at this stage in the case, Gutierrez said.
“At this point, no evidence has been presented about whether it is common in the industry for actors to inquire into why they were not cast, and further, no evidence has been presented as to whether Jackson and Walsh would have informed plaintiff about defendant’s statements had she asked them why she was not given a role in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films,” wrote Gutierrez.
However, Gutierrez dismissed Judd’s sexual harassment claim. Judd said Weinstein’s status as a powerful movie producer created a “drastically unequal power relationship” akin to doctor-patient or attorney-client, and therefore covered by California’s sexual-harassment laws.
But while Weinstein may have been, as Judd claims, “a gatekeeper to many desirable roles and film projects” and “one of the most powerful and influential producers in the film business,” she met with Weinstein at the hotel not to seek professional services as one would from a doctor or lawyer but to find a job, Gutierrez said.
“Plaintiff argues that the statute was intended to cover harassment in ‘power relationships,’ but the statute does not use that term,” Gutierrez wrote.
He added: “A prospective employee usually either gets the job after an interview or series of interviews (and then becomes covered under sexual harassment laws applicable to employment relationships), or does not get the job, in which case the relationship ends. The temporary nature of a prospective employment relationship is qualitatively different than the often-more-permanent relationships common with the categories of individuals explicitly listed in the statute.”
Gutierrez gave Judd until Oct. 19 to amend her complaint and try to convince him that her working relationship with Weinstein was “substantially similar” to those providing and receiving professional services so as to be covered by the statute.
The judge also advanced Judd’s claim of intentional interference with prospective economic advantages, despite Weinstein arguing that the statute of limitations has passed, since Judd claims she only found out what he supposedly told Jackson and Walsh a few months ago.
In a statement, Judd’s attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher said he’s pleased with the court’s ruling and will move forward with Weinstein’s deposition.
“The law should not tolerate this abuse of power to damage another’s career,” said Boutrous.
A public relations firm representing Weinstein’s attorney was unable to provide comment by press time due to the Yom Kippur holiday.