The famous actress, Ashley Judd, pushed back against sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein, and in the process, expanded the reach of sexual harassment law to protect victims of harassment in business settings.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Judd had a relationship with Weinstein that was substantially similar to the professional relationships between a plaintiff and a physician, or psychotherapist, dentist, attorney, real estate agent, account, bank or trust officer, executor trustee, landlord property manager, or teacher, all of whom can be liable for sexual harassment under California Civil Code Section 51.9. That section protects victims of sexual harassment who are in special business relationships beyond the traditional employer – employee relationship.
The California legislature amended Civil Code Section 51.9 by adding directors and producers to the professional relationships protected under Section 51.9, but the judge in Ashley Judd’s case did not consider that modification because it was not in effect at the time of the harassment of Judd by Weinstein.
The Judd versus Weinstein decision opens up the possibilities of sexual harassment victims being protected when they are in business, service or professional relationships where an inherent power imbalance exists, such that one party is uniquely situated to exercise coercion or leverage over the other.