After two years of tumultuous legal proceedings, embattled Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has reached a tentative deal with dozens of women who accuse him of sexual misconduct. On Wednesday, The New York Times journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor published a story about the settlement that would resolve many of the lawsuits brought against the disgraced mogul.
Under the agreement, Weinstein would not have to admit any wrongdoing or shell out a dime of his own money. Instead, his accusers would split $25 million—the same amount, it's worth noting, that Weinstein sold his townhouse in New York City for last year—paid out by insurance companies representing his former studio, The Weinstein Company, which filed for bankruptcy. The sum is a far cry from the $90 million victims’ fund that was discussed last year.
Several alleged victims voiced discontent with the terms, telling the Times it makes them feel "defeated and hopeless."
Indiana University professor Dr. Jennifer Drobac, who specializes in sexual harassment law, says complainants in the Weinstein case expected both appropriate financial compensation and a recognition that their claims were legitimate. In this deal, they get neither.
"They want money, sure, for medical bills or for lost pay," Drobac says. "But they also seek acknowledgement that they've been aggrieved. The problem with this settlement is there's no admission of liability. Weinstein isn't paying for it himself, an insurance company is, and so these women aren't getting any true vindication."
When negotiations to sell The Weinstein Company fell through last year and it filed for bankruptcy, there was no ongoing venture to finance the renumeration logically owed to Weinstein's accusers. "Because they are relying solely on insurance money and because Weinstein himself is not personally liable, this settlement is basically the best they can expect," Drobac says. "I can’t say this is the best outcome, because it's not. However, anybody who opposes this deal now risks that even this will go away."
The potential settlement highlights a bigger issue at hand: that current sexual harassment law does not adequately address the harms caused by the problem. In a statement sent to ELLE.com, representatives of the Time's Up Foundation describe it as a "broken system" that privileges powerful abusers at the expense of survivors.
"When perpetrators have assets, they’re able to avoid people they harmed by taking bankruptcy and then taking an escape in the moment when everything is hot," Drobac says. "It allows them to resurface later and continue earning lots of money. That's why these women are so frustrated, because they can see that happening with Weinstein in the future."
Weinstein does still face serious jail time. In May 2018, he was charged by prosecutors with "rape, criminal sex act, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct" in two incidents—one in 2006 and another in 2013— involving two women. These separate criminal charges against the disgraced producer will move forward in New York next month.
Drobac says a settlement could inadvertently impact jurors during the trial. "You try and get an unbiased jury pool, but if jurors know that Weinstein has settled to the tune of $25 million or has participated in a settlement to the tune of $25 million that could influence, subtly, a criminal jury," she says. "It’s not supposed to and we want to have unbiased jurors, but you have had to be living under a rock for the last two years not to know that Harvey Weinstein is basically the reason for #MeToo."
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