Ashley Judd’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein will move forward after the actress won a crucial appeal Wednesday.
Judd first sued Weinstein for harassment, retaliation, and defamation in 2018, over an incident in which Weinstein invited her to his hotel room in the mid-1990s, asked her to watch him shower, and tried to give her a massage. Judd brought her suit after news broke that Weinstein had told director Peter Jackson that she and Mira Sorvino could be a “nightmare to work with.”
A lower court allowed Judd to move forward with her defamation and retaliation claims, but threw out Judd’s harassment claim because Weinstein was not her employer at the time, Variety reports. But on Wednesday the 9th Circuit of Appeals held that Weinstein did hold power over Judd, in the same way that a teacher might hold power over a student, or a landlord over a tenant.
On behalf of the three-judge panel, Judge Mary H. Murguia wrote, “[B]y virtue of his professional position and influence as a top producer in Hollywood, Weinstein was uniquely situated to exercise coercive power or leverage over Judd, who was a young actor at the beginning of her career at the time of the alleged harassment,” Variety reports.
“Moreover,” Murguia added, “given Weinstein’s highly influential and ‘unavoidable’ presence in the film industry, the relationship was one that would have been difficult to terminate ‘without tangible hardship’ to Judd, whose livelihood as an actor depended on being cast for roles.”
Judd’s attorney Theodore Boutrous cheered the decision in a statement to Variety: “This is an important victory not only for Ms. Judd but for all victims of sexual harassment in professional relationships,” he said. “The court correctly holds that California law forbids sexual harassment and retaliation by film producers and others in powerful positions, even outside the employment context, and we look forward to pursuing this claim against Mr Weinstein at trial.”
Phyllis Kupferstein, who is representing Weinstein in the case, told Variety that as the case moves back to court, “we expect the truth will come to light.”
“The most minimal investigation of the events will show that Mr. Weinstein neither defamed Ms. Judd, nor hindered or interfered with her career, and certainly never retaliated against her,” Kupferstein told Variety. “Instead, Mr. Weinstein championed her work and approved her casting for two of his movies.”
Kupferstein told Variety that Weinstein advocated for Judd as his first choice for the lead in Good Will Hunting and flew her to New York to be considered for the role—after which Judd appeared in two Weinstein-produced movies, Frida and Crossing Over.
“In addition, the record on Lord of the Rings will finally be made absolutely clear—that Mr. Weinstein had no authority over the project as it belonged to a different production company that had full staffing control of the film,” Kupferstein added.