The actress Ashley Judd can proceed with a sexual harassment claim as part of a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul imprisoned for sex crimes and a focus of the #MeToo movement, an appeals court ruled on Wednesday.
A three-judge panel of United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena, Calif., reversed a lower court’s dismissal of the sexual harassment component of Ms. Judd’s lawsuit, which she filed in April 2018 against Mr. Weinstein.
Ms. Judd, who is known for her roles in “Double Jeopardy,” “Kiss the Girls” and “A Time to Kill,” accused Mr. Weinstein of undermining her movie career after she rejected his sexual advances in the late 1990s. She also sued Mr. Weinstein on claims of defamation and unfair business practices.
But Ms. Judd’s legal crusade hit a snag in January, when a U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles ruled that she could not claim sexual harassment under the law in California because she did not have a specific business relationship with Mr. Weinstein at the time that she said that misconduct took place.
The judge’s interpretation of the state’s sexual harassment statute was rejected on Wednesday by the appeals court.
“By virtue of his professional position and influence as a top producer in Hollywood, Weinstein was uniquely situated to exercise coercive power or leverage over Judd, who was a young actor at the beginning of her career at the time of the alleged harassment,” the judges wrote in the ruling. “Moreover, given Weinstein’s highly influential and ‘unavoidable’ presence in the film industry, the relationship was one that would have been difficult to terminate ‘without tangible hardship’ to Judd, whose livelihood as an actor depended on being cast for roles.”
Ms. Judd has declined to join a class-action lawsuit that was brought against Mr. Weinstein by dozens of women who accused him of sexual misconduct. She has long sought to have her day in court.
“This is an important victory not only for Ms. Judd but for all victims of sexual harassment in professional relationships,” Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a lawyer for Ms. Judd, said in an email on Wednesday. “The court correctly holds that California law forbids sexual harassment and retaliation by film producers and others in powerful positions, even outside the employment context, and we look forward to pursuing this claim against Mr. Weinstein at trial.”
Phyllis Kupferstein, a lawyer for Mr. Weinstein, said in a statement that her client would be vindicated of the accusations made by Ms. Judd.
“We are glad that both Ms. Judd and Mr. Weinstein will have their day in court, where we expect the truth will come to light,” she said. “The most minimal investigation of the events will show that Mr. Weinstein neither defamed Ms. Judd, nor hindered or interfered with her career, and certainly never retaliated against her and indeed, had nothing to retaliate for.”
Ms. Kupferstein said that Mr. Weinstein “fought” for Ms. Judd as his first choice for the lead role in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting” and arranged for her to fly to New York to be considered for the part. She did not get it.
Ms. Judd contends that Mr. Weinstein invited her to the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills in late 1996 or early 1997 to discuss movie roles, but instead of meeting in a public place, Mr. Weinstein summoned her to his room. According to the lawsuit, Mr. Weinstein, who was wearing a bathrobe, asked Ms. Judd for a massage and to watch him take a shower.
After Ms. Judd declined, she contends, she was passed over for major roles, including being cast in the “Lord of the Rings” films, which made $2.5 billion in ticket sales and earned 30 Oscar nominations.
Ms. Judd filed the lawsuit after the director and producer Peter Jackson came forward and said that he removed Ms. Judd from a “Lord of the Rings” casting list “as a direct result” of what he now thought was “false information” provided by Mr. Weinstein.
Ms. Judd’s lawsuit contends that Mr. Weinstein told Mr. Jackson and a producer that Mr. Weinstein had a “bad experience” with Ms. Judd and that she was “a nightmare to work with.”
Ms. Kupferstein said that Mr. Weinstein had no authority over the “Lord of the Rings” franchise and that Ms. Judd was cast in two of Mr. Weinstein’s projects, the 2002 film “Frida” and the 2009 film “Crossing Over.”