The sexual harassment claims against mega Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein this month led to his quick firing from the empire he founded, but human resources also is feeling the heat for actions that he had allegedly carried out for nearly 30 years.
A report from TheNewYorkTimes revealed previous allegations against Weinstein that were not made public. Interviews with current and former employees as well as A-list actors and a review of legal records, emails and internal documents from Miramax and Weinstein Company point to sexual abuse spanning almost three decades.
So where was HR? Despite complaints about Weinstein, TheNewYorkTimes article notes that the human resources department was seen as ineffective in New York and even worse in London. So employees found strength in numbers to avoid being victimized.
“If a female executive was asked to go to a meeting solo, she and a colleague would generally double up,” says Mark Gill, former president of Miramax Los Angeles. The hope was to avoid having to be alone in the same room as Weinstein, he noted.
“From the outside, it seemed golden--the Oscars, the success, the remarkable cultural impact,” Gill said. “But behind the scenes, it was a mess, and this was the biggest mess of all,” Gill noted referring to how Weinstein treated women.
Weinstein’s alleged actions followed a pattern similar to what happened to Emily Nestor in 2014. Nestor had been on the job just one day as a temporary employee when Weinstein allegedly summoned her to his hotel. Weinstein proposed that if Nestor accepted his sexual advances he would elevate her career. That's according to accounts from Nestor’s colleagues that were sent to Weinstein Company executives.
A year later, a female assistant shared that Weinstein harassed her into giving him a massage as he was naked. That incident left the employee “crying and very distraught,” a colleague, Lauren O’Connor, wrote in a stinging 2015 memo alleging Weinstein engaged in a long pattern of sexual harassment. Nestor also shared that Weinstein bragged about sleeping with famous actresses, according to accounts from colleagues.
Nestor, who did not speak with TheNewYorkTimes, declined Weinstein’s offer and “was disappointed that he met with her and did not seem to be interested in her resume and skill set,” according to an internal document. Despite the troubling allegations from Nestor, she did not make a report to HR, and the incident came to light only from reports to management from other employees.
“There is a toxic environment for women at this company,” O’Connor noted in her memo to executives. Weinstein issued a statement to TheTimesthe day the story ran, Oct. 5, noting that “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”
Weinstein also noted that he was working with a therapist and planned to leave the company temporarily to “deal with this issue head on.” Hours after saying he would seek help, he threatened to sue TheTimesfor defamation and three days later, the Weinstein Company fired its co-founder, TheNewYorkTimes reported.
O’Connor noted in her memo to executives that “I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64-year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”
After O’Connor’s memo came to light, Lance Maerov, a board member, demanded an outside lawyer be brought in to investigate the allegations. But that went nowhere after Weinstein settled with O’Connor.
“Because this matter has been resolved and no further action is required, I withdraw my complaint,” O’Connor noted in an email to the head of HR six days after she sent her memo out. In an interview with NPR, Laurie Ruettimann, a human resources consultant with expertise on harassment in the workplace, said employees who go to HR with such complaints should not expect much help.
“Today, traditional HR departments are meant to indemnify organizations against lawsuits,” Ruettimann said. “So if you go to your human resources department, chances are what will happen is that they will be in the corner of your company.”
When asked if the Weinstein case could signal a turning point on company practices, Ruettimann expressed doubt. From Anita Hill to recent sexual harassment allegations leveled against Uber and Amazon, not much change has taken place, she noted.
“We keep having these inflection points, and it seems to be a lot of outrage, a lot of vocalization and no activity,” Ruettimann said. “So I want to be optimistic, but I think we need individual accountability. And if we don’t become a voice for the victims within our organization, this is just going to keep continuing over and over again.”
Nora Harsha, HR knowledge center advisor for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), said workers should ask themselves five questions to determine if they are being harassed, USATodayreports. Those include whether a manager has promised you a raise if you give in to their sexual advances or they threatened to fire if you if you don’t abide. Another is if inappropriate photos were texted to you.