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Thursday November 23rd, 2017 4:57PM

New York attorney general launches probe of Weinstein Co.

By The Associated Press
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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a civil rights investigation on Monday into The Weinstein Co. following sexual harassment and assault allegations against its co-founder, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

As part of the investigation, the prosecutor's office issued a subpoena seeking company records on harassment complaints and legal settlements to determine whether any civil rights and anti-discrimination laws were broken.

"No New Yorker should be forced to walk into a workplace ruled by sexual intimidation, harassment or fear," said Schneiderman, a Democrat. "If sexual harassment or discrimination is pervasive at a company, we want to know."

The New York City-based company fired Weinstein on Oct. 8 after The New York Times and The New Yorker exposed allegations of sexual assault and harassment spanning decades.

More than three dozen women, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, have publicly accused the entertainment mogul of abuse. Weinstein has denied allegations of nonconsensual sex.

A woman who answered the phone in The Weinstein Co.'s media relations office said the company had no comment on the subpoena or news of the investigation.

One of Weinstein's former assistants in London, Zelda Perkins, spoke to the Financial Times about what she said was repeated sexual harassment toward her. Weinstein walked around nude in front of her, asked her to be in the room when he bathed and the producer would often try to pull her into bed when she went into his room to wake him up.

She told the paper she split a £250,000 settlement with another woman who she claimed was sexually assaulted by the producer.

Perkins told the paper for a story published Monday that she was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement — a copy of which she was not allowed to keep.

"I want to publicly break my non-disclosure agreement," she said. "Unless somebody does this there won't be a debate about how egregious these agreements are and the amount of duress that victims are put under. My entire world fell in because I thought the law was there to protect those who abided by it."

She sought legal advice after a colleague, who she did not name in the story, told her Weinstein sexually assaulted her at the Venice Film Festival in 1998.

Perkins, who had declined comment to The Associated Press through her current employer, said the settlement agreement called for Weinstein to undergo counseling and called for a harassment reporting procedure to be set up at Weinstein's then-company, Miramax.

Emails seeking comment from the Walt Disney Co., which owns Miramax, and Weinstein's representative Sallie Hofmeister were not immediately returned. Hofmeister has said Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex.

Police in Los Angeles, New York City and London are also investigating Harvey Weinstein over allegations of sex abuse in those cities.

The Oscar winner was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Producers Guild of America has started the process of expelling him.

The allegations have prompted calls in Albany to use the power of the state to crack down on harassment. Democratic Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of Queens proposed legislation that would make designers, photographers, retailers and others liable for harassment experienced by models.

Another lawmaker, Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan, proposed legislation that would make companies ineligible for state tax incentives if they fail to address chronic harassment problems in the workplace.

Also Monday, ABC News said Ashley Judd will talk to anchor Diane Sawyer for Judd's first TV interview since the actress-activist went public with allegations against Weinstein. The interview will air Thursday on ABC News platforms including "Good Morning America" and "Nightline."

Judd has described an incident two decades ago in which she said he invited her to his hotel room, greeted her wearing a bathrobe and asked if she would watch him shower.

"Good Morning America" aired an interview with Matt Damon and George Clooney on Monday where both acknowledged they were aware of allegations Weinstein had slept with actresses, but not that he had assaulted them. Clooney described him in the interview as "a predator."

"I knew he was an (expletive)," Damon said. "He was proud of that. ... I knew he was a womanizer. I wouldn't want to be married to the guy, but it's not my business really. But this level of criminal sexual predation is not something that I ever thought was going on."

In more Weinstein fallout, a fired Nickelodeon producer facing allegations of sexual harassment expressed regret over his behavior. Chris Savino, creator of the animated series "The Loud House," posted the apology Monday on his Facebook page.

"I am deeply sorry and I am ashamed," he wrote. "Although it was never my intention, I now understand that the impact of my actions and communications created an unacceptable environment."

Savino has been accused of sexual harassment by up to 12 women, according to the website Cartoon Brew, which reports on animation industry news.

Last week, Nickelodeon said it took allegations of misconduct seriously and that Savino was no longer working with the children's TV channel.

___

AP Television Writers Frazier Moore in New York and Lynn Elber and Film Writer Lindsey Bahr in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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