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Actress Ashley Judd has another chance to prove her sexual harassment claim against producer Harvey Weinstein, thanks to a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judd's claim centers around California Civil Code section 51.9, which holds someone liable for sexual harassment if they make sexual advances or other unwelcome contacts toward someone they have a business relationship with. The district court dismissed Judd's action for failure to state a claim.
Now, a Ninth Circuit Appeals panel has reversed.
Judd alleges that she had a business meeting with Weinstein in the 1990s, where Weinstein wore only his bathrobe, and among other things, asked Judd to watch him shower. Judd refused.
Afterward, Judd says Weinstein told director Peter Jackson and producer Fran Walsh that she was "a nightmare to work with" - derailing Judd's chances of involvement with the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Following the many harassment allegations that came out against Weinstein in 2017, Jackson revealed in an interview that he and Walsh did, in fact, choose not to cast Judd in Lord of the Rings because of Weinstein's statements.
The California Supreme Court has held that Section 51.9 prohibits sexual harassment in "a wide variety of business relationships outside the workplace." The statute includes a few examples of business relationships to which it applies, including physicians, therapists, lawyers, landlords, and teachers.
Weinstein argued that the enumerated examples were "so idiosyncratic" that his relationship to Judd could not be substantially similar, as the statute requires.
However, the Ninth Circuit rejected this argument. The panel focused on the fact that each example represents an imbalance of power. Teachers have power over their students because they control the students' grades. Landlords exercise power over tenants because they can take their security deposit or cause them to lose their homes.
There is still a small group of producers and executives who can make or break an actor's career. Judd was at the beginning of her acting career in the 1990s when she met with Weinstein. And thus, the panel concluded, an imbalance of power was present.
Notably, the panel set aside the district court's conclusion that Judd and Weinstein's relationship did not fit under Section 51.9 because it centered around "potential employment." That question is one for a trier of fact, so this case is headed back for further proceedings.
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