It is a well-known tenet in Hollywood (and beyond) that “difficult” women do not get jobs. While blacklisting is a much-discussed practice, it is rarely at the center of lawsuits. Ashley Judd is changing that. In a new lawsuit filed this week in a California state court, the actress claims that Harvey Weinstein labelled her “difficult” to work with after she rebuffed his sexual advances, and as a result, the studio executive’s “baseless smears” served to prevent her from landing top film roles by “destroying” her professional reputation.
According to Judd’s lawsuit, what she did not know when she was rejected from a number of jobs, including a leading role in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy in 1998, was the “pathetic reality:” Weinstein was allegedly working to “torpedo” a number of her professional opportunities. He was, Judd alleges, “retaliating against [her] for rejecting his sexual demands approximately one year earlier, when he cornered her in a hotel room under the guise of discussing business.”
Judd alleges that in 1998 she was in the running for one of two major roles in the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Lord of the Rings" books. Filmmaker Peter Jackson and his producing partner Fran Walsh allegedly “expressed their enthusiasm for casting Ms. Judd in The Lord of the Rings” to Weinstein, whose company Miramax held the rights in the film adaptation, only to be told by Weinstein that Judd was "a 'nightmare' to work with and should be avoided at 'at all costs.'"
The suit asserts, “The malicious statements of purported fact that Weinstein made to Mr. Jackson and Ms. Walsh about Ms. Judd were knowingly false and falsely implied that Weinstein knew negative facts about Ms. Judd's professionalism and work conduct. In fact, there was no 'bad experience' to speak of.” Turns out, Judd says she had only worked on one Miramax film before then and had not had any issues.
In the wake of the recent industry-wide allegations against Weinstein, Jackson revealed in a December 2017 interview, "I now suspect we were fed false information about [Judd and fellow actress Mira Sorvino], and as a direct result their names were removed from [The Lord of the Rings] casting list.”
As a result of Weinstein allegedly barring Judd from landing a “major role in a multi-billion-dollar film franchise” and other “career-defining roles,” Judd is asserting claims of defamation, sexual harassment, violations of California’s Business and Professional Code, and injunctive relief.
The most striking claim, however, is the one citing Intentional Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage. In short, Judd is suing Weinstein for effectively blacklisting her. Although "blacklisting," itself, is not a formal offense, intentionally blocking another's employment opportunities and causing that person damages as a result of such malicious actions is an actionable legal claim.
The complaint states that "it is reasonably probable that, but for the statements Weinstein made to Mr. Jackson and Ms. Walsh, Ms. Judd would have been cast in [The Lord of the Rings] films and obtained an economic benefit.”
Additionally, Judd asserts that “Weinstein intentionally and wrongfully interfered with this prospective, beneficial economic relationship by communicating and causing false statements of fact to be communicated to Mr. Jackson and Ms. Walsh about Ms. Judd's work as an actor. In doing so, Weinstein intended to disrupt Ms. Judd's prospective economic advantage or knew that his actions were certain or substantially certain to achieve this result.”
Judd is seeking an array of monetary damages in connection with the suit, which she has stated will be given to the Times Up movement “so that American workers who experience sexual harassment and retaliation have help.”
A representative for Weinstein denied the allegations that he smeared Judd's name, saying: "We look forward to a vigorous defense of these claims.”
* The case is Ashley Judd v. Harvey Weinstein, SC1292, Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles.
UPDATED (JULY 23, 2018): Weinstein's legal team has filed a motion to have the case dismissed, alleging that their client never defamed the star — but simply offered his opinion that she was very difficult to work with. “Plaintiff may dispute she was difficult to work with but, like beauty, the experience is in the eye of the beholder,” Weinstein's counsel stated in their filing. “Unlike statements that a particular actor could not remember his or her lines, would be late to set, or required many takes — all of which are susceptible to proof — describing Plaintiff as a ‘nightmare’ and cautioning others to ‘avoid’ her does not support a defamation claim.”
They further argued that Weinstein’s conduct did not amount to sexual harassment — because he just asked for a massage and for Judd to watch him shower. This is not harassment, according to Weinstein's counsel, because it was not “severe or pervasive.”