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[NEW YORK] Weinstein Co was sued for racketeering by six women who claim the company helped facilitate and conceal "widespread sexual misconduct" by Harvey Weinstein that led to the producer's ouster.
The suit is the latest to target a company imperiled by a drumbeat of allegations against Weinstein.
The women who sued Wednesday are actresses or screenwriters who claim they were assaulted or mistreated by Weinstein after meeting with him for auditions or to pitch projects.
"Plaintiffs, and hundreds of other females like them, found themselves with Weinstein on the casting couch at offices, in hotel rooms, in his homes, or in rooms at industry functions," the women said in the complaint. The company, its directors and Miramax, the studio Weinstein formerly ran, helped enable his conduct, they say.
Weinstein was ousted from the company he founded in October over allegations by numerous women that he harassed or assaulted them.
Since the claims became public numerous powerful men in entertainment, media and politics have been brought down by similar accusations. The rise of people coming forward with stories of harassment and assaults prompted Time magazine to deem them its Person of the Year.
Actress Louisette Geiss and the other women say they "had or wanted to have careers in the entertainment industry and correctly understood that Harvey Weinstein was a powerful force in the production world," and worried that they could be "blacklisted" if they refused his advances or complained about his behaviour.
The suit seeks to invoke The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act, or RICO, which provides for extended penalties.
Although courts rarely accept civil racketeering claims, the womens' complaint alleges the kind of facts, such as a conspiracy and the use of "an army of spies," that could be seen as a pattern, said Nick Rozansky, a lawyer in Los Angeles who isn't involved in the lawsuit.
The case might also proceed as a class-action on behalf of the purported hundreds of victims of Harvey Weinstein's sexual harassment and assault because the evidence of the alleged cover-up would be the same for all of them even if the circumstances were different, he said."If I were on the other side, I'd be concerned," Rozansky said.
TUDOR'S JONES SAYS HE BELIEVED, DEFENDED WEINSTEIN TOO LONG
Weinstein's lawyers said in a statement that he never used company resources for personal expenditures and paid for every settlement personally with the knowledge of the company and its lawyers. They denied that Weinstein ever sexually assaulted anyone while saying he remains "deeply apologetic" to those who were offended by his behaviour.
The suit also names Harvey Weinstein, Miramax and Weinstein Co directors including billionaire investor Dirk Ziff, Technicolor SA executive Tim Sarnoff, Avenue Capital Group chairman Marc Lasry and hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones, all of whom resigned from the board in the wake of the allegations.
Also named is Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan, who left the board in 2016.
Miramax said in a statement that it "joins the entire film community in condemning Harvey Weinstein and his unspeakable actions. Twelve years and two ownership changes later, Miramax is a very different company."
Leslie Sloane, a spokeswoman for Dolan, declined to comment on the suit itself, citing a review of the complaint. She said Mr Dolan "is confident that he acted appropriately in all matters relating to his time on the Weinstein board."
Spokespersons for Lasry and Jones declined to comment on the suit, while representatives of the other board members didn't immediately respond to messages. Ron Hofmann, a spokesman for Weinstein Co, didn't respond to an emailed request for comment.