A lawyer for a former assistant to Harvey Weinstein is challenging parts of a lawsuit brought by a Toronto woman against his client and the disgraced Hollywood producer, arguing Monday that his client’s alleged acts are subject to a statute of limitations that has expired.
Barbara Schneeweiss worked for Weinstein for approximately 20 years and is named as a defendant in the suit from a Toronto actress who alleges she was sexually assaulted by Weinstein nearly two decades ago.
The actress, who cannot be named, alleges Schneeweiss set up a meeting between her and Weinstein in 2000 despite having some degree of knowledge that it might lead to a sexual assault. The actress’s statement of claim alleges Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her without consent at that meeting.
Later, when the actress went with her agent and a friend to meet with Weinstein, expecting an apology, Schneeweiss allegedly conspired to get the actress in a room with Weinstein alone, at which point he attempted to stick his tongue down her throat, according to the woman’s statement of claim.
None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court.
Schneeweiss’ lawyer Jonathan Rosenstein argued at a hearing that his client’s alleged acts are subject to a statute of limitations that has expired.
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Under Ontario law, a plaintiff generally has two years from the time of an alleged incident to sue someone, but legislation passed in 2016 abolished any time limitation for filing a lawsuit for a matter relating to sexual violence or harassment.
Rosenstein argued, however, that Schneeweiss’ alleged actions were not necessarily perpetrated “in relation” to any alleged sexual assault.
If Schneeweiss did not know that a sexual assault had taken place, but rather, had only heard rumours and hearsay about Weinstein’s alleged actions with women, she should be held liable only for allegedly failing to warn someone of potential harm, not for causing that harm to occur, Rosenstein said.
Rosenstein also argued that the actress did not specify in her claim how much Schneeweiss allegedly knew about Weinstein’s alleged sexual activities.
Marie Henein, the actress’ lawyer, countered that failing to warn someone of the danger of a sexual assault appears to fit the legislation’s definition of an act “relating to” sexual assault.
“All of the claims … are directly in relation to sexual assault in this case,” she said.
And the statement of claim is clear in alleging that Schneeweiss, at best, was aware of Weinstein’s activities and intentions in private meetings with actresses and, at worst, was actively procuring women for him, she added.
“She is a facilitator, she is an accomplice, she is part and parcel of a scheme,” Henein said.
Justice Patrick Monahan is expected to make a decision in the coming days with regards to Schneeweiss’ challenge.
The actress’s lawsuit against Weinstein, as well as other defendants Miramax and Disney, will continue regardless of the outcome of Rosenstein’s challenge.
Weinstein, an Oscar-winning film producer, faces sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations from several women.
On Oct. 8, he was fired from the Weinstein Company — the film studio he co-founded with his brother in 2005 — days after the New York Times published a story detailing some of the allegations against him. Weinstein’s representative Sallie Hofmeister has said Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex.