NEW YORK – (Hagens Berman) — A class of women suing Harvey Weinstein in a federal class-action lawsuit have reached an $18.875 million settlement fund for survivors, according to attorneys at Hagens Berman who brought the case in December 2017, marking a day in history for the #MeToo movement and for the fight for survivors’ rights.
The lawsuit was filed by attorneys at Hagens Berman on behalf of survivors against Harvey Weinstein, The Weinstein Company Holdings LLC (“TWC”), and certain former officers, directors, and employees of TWC and other companies affiliated with Weinstein alleging they failed to stop Weinstein’s widespread sexual harassment and abuse. The firm’s plaintiffs, represented by Louisette Geiss, Sarah Ann Thomas, Melissa Thompson, Melissa Sagemiller, Nannette May, Katherine Kendall, Caitlin Dulany, Larissa Gomes and a Jill Doe, alleged they were subjected to unwanted sexual conduct that took many forms.
The proposed settlement on behalf of Weinstein’s survivors is the results of a hard-fought battle amid The Weinstein Company’s bankruptcy proceedings and the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York’s dismissal of TWC’s former board of directors and representatives from the suit. Attorneys say that the culmination of the case marks a day in history both for the hundreds of women subjected to harassment and worse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, and survivors everywhere who have for too long been unheard or unbelieved.
“The women who stepped forward in this case really changed the world. Together they shined the light on Weinstein’s serial sexual predation and made it clear that women would not tolerate a world that allowed this conduct to persist in the entertainment industry or any industry. Their selfless advocacy for all survivors against the odds was remarkable,” said Whitney K. Siehl, attorney at Hagens Berman representing the women who filed the class action against Harvey Weinstein. “The brave women who brought this case forward, spoke their truth, and made this settlement a reality are nothing short of heroes.”
“We know this settlement is a testament to the power women have when they act together,” Siehl said.
The lawsuit’s class includes hundreds of actresses and entertainment industry professionals who bravely stepped forward to publicly break the silence and sue Weinstein. The suit alleged at all times, Weinstein’s survivors “operated under duress and the threat of being blacklisted” by Weinstein and other industry professionals if they refused his advances or spoke up. Plaintiffs also alleged damages for the significant physical and emotional distress they endured then, and continue to endure now.
$18.875 MILLION FOR #METOO
Under the terms of the settlement, if approved by the court, a two-tier claim structure allows class members to choose whether, and in how much detail, they want to share their story.
“This settlement allows all survivors the opportunity to engage in a confidential and trauma-informed process to obtain recompense, and we believe this fund will help shape future models in sexual harassment and abuse settlements. Today, their bravery and willingness to advocate for a better world for all women achieved a fund for all survivors like them,” Siehl said.
Tier 1 Claims give each class member the option to submit a claim form describing their experience, the impact, and/or the damages suffered. If the claimant chooses, they can include documentation in support of the claim form. That claim form will be reviewed by a court-appointed Special Master or designee. Payments of $7,500 to $150,000 may be awarded based on the Special Master’s review and pro rata adjustments.
Under Tier 2 Claims, alternatively, each Settlement Class Member may submit a claim form, supporting documentation, and submit to an interview by the Special Master regarding the class member’s experience and the impact of the events. Payments of $7,500 to $750,000 may be awarded based on the Special Master’s review and pro rata adjustments.
Hagens Berman spearheaded a similar settlement structure in its $215 million settlement with the University of Southern California and its former full-time gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall, regarding years-long sexual abuse ignored by USC. Similarly, in that matter, plaintiffs were given the freedom of choosing their involvement during the claims process.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: THE WOMEN WHO SUED WEINSTEIN SPEAK OUT ABOUT THE SETTLEMENT
In addition to the motion for preliminary approval of the $18.875 million settlement, the class action’s representative plaintiffs who brought the case filed their declarations in support of the settlement, sharing their personal experiences in why they came forward, filed the suit and chose to become vocal advocates for survivors against Harvey Weinstein, and why they support the settlement.
First Named Plaintiff and Co-Chair of the Unsecured Creditors Committee in The Weinstein Company bankruptcy, Louisette Geiss, stated in her declaration: “Weinstein’s assault deeply distressed me. I recognized that Weinstein’s behavior had negatively affected so many women. I decided to spearhead and link arms with my fellow survivors to try to make a difference to get everyone some sort of compensation, even for those victims whose claims were barred by the statute of limitations.” Geiss said. “I also support the class settlement because it gives the class members a choice about their level of participation and what they are willing to undertake in order to submit their claims.”
“When I disclosed the assault to my castmates, the implicit warning from others on the set was not to cause any trouble, because it would hurt my career to discuss what happened to me,” said plaintiff Melissa Sagemiller in her declaration submitted to the court. “I decided to join the class action as a class representative because of what the lawsuit represented, which is greater accountability for Weinstein’s behavior for those companies and individuals who perpetuated it. I put my hat in the ring, so to speak, and decided to be a class representative to add another voice in order to forward the cause because I knew there was strength in numbers. I didn’t join the lawsuit for the money. I joined it to set a precedent.”
Plaintiff Melissa Thompson stated, “..this global settlement is the start and a symbol of a change to individual accountability and to those complicit to serial sexual predation… I found the strength and felt the moral obligation to come forward because I wanted accountability after decades of criminal acts committed… I support this settlement agreement as I believe it is as close to the best outcome as possible given the amalgamation of complex factors considered.”
Plaintiff Larissa Gomes stated, “…I carried the trauma of Weinstein’s attack with me. …I came forward as a class representative because I wanted to hold the companies accountable and to have recompense for the victims…”
Plaintiff Caitlin Dulany stated in her declaration, “When I came forward and shared my story about the assault, I knew there wouldn’t be a straight path to justice… Yet I was determined to see some measure of justice done and that is why I decided to join the civil class action lawsuit.”
“Once I joined the class action, I knew I wasn’t alone. The assaults on us were designed to isolate and intimidate, but the class of survivors represented a unified front that offered solace and strength, and we reclaimed our power through our shared experiences,” Dulany said.
“As a Class Representative I am proud to raise my voice so survivors could be heard. I wanted the Defendants to see me and my fellow survivors as human beings that deserve justice,” said Sarah Ann Masse, another of the suit’s named plaintiffs. “While I believe no settlement will make up for Harvey Weinstein’s predatory sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, and the individuals and systems in place that protected him for so long, I support the settlement.”
Plaintiff Katherine Kendall stated, “…this settlement is really about the whole group, especially those who for whatever reason did not or cannot come forward… I am happy to help, and I feel that this settlement is precedent setting for companies, showing that the culture is changing because systems surrounding sexual perpetrators are being held accountable.
Plaintiff Nannette Klatt stated in her declaration. ”The settlement is an opportunity for all the survivors, regardless of the length of time that has passed, to receive acknowledgement and compensation for the sexual abuse and harassment they endured.”
AN UPHILL BATTLE TO JUSTICE
The class-action lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein, TWC, and certain former representatives of TWC and other affiliated companies, alleging they failed to stop Weinstein’s systemic sexual assault and silencing of his victims, faced multiple roadblocks.
This settlement ensures survivors will receive compensation, which would be unlikely otherwise, given the numerous adverse circumstances. Many individual claims against Weinstein were dismissed, and statutes of limitation were often a barrier faced by those who came forward. The court also dismissed The Weinstein Company’s former board of directors from the suit. Additionally, TWC and certain affiliates filed voluntary petitions for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in March 2018. Absent the settlement, any sexual misconduct claims against TWC would be compensated only after secured creditors in the bankruptcy proceedings were paid in full.
“Our clients, the women who already risked it all in stepping forward, faced an incredibly uphill battle in achieving any victory in this suit,” Siehl said. “They did not lose hope during this battle, and by standing united in their unyielding pursuit of justice secured a fund for all of Harvey’s survivors, no matter the date of the assault. There is strength in numbers.”
If preliminarily approved, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York will order that notice of the settlement be provided to the settlement class and will set deadlines for claims to be submitted or objections to be made to the settlement. The Court will then hold a fairness hearing to decide whether to grant final approval of the settlement. After preliminary approval, updates can be found at www.weinsteinclaims.com or www.hbsslaw.com/weinstein.
On Jan. 6, 2020, in The People of the State of California v. Harvey Weinstein, Weinstein was charged with forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by force, forcible rape, sexual battery by restraint, and on Apr. 10, 2020, with another charge of sexual battery by restraint. On Mar. 11, 2020, in People of the State of New York v. Harvey Weinstein, Weinstein was sentenced for his convictions of first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape. He received consecutive prison sentences of 20 years and three years, respectively. The sentences include five years of supervision after release and require Weinstein to register as a sex offender.
The case was led by Steve W. Berman, Whitney K. Siehl and Shelby R. Smith of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP and Elizabeth A. Fegan of Fegan Scott LLC.