The Producer of Superman, Jon Peters, lost a significant sexual harassment lawsuit last week. A jury ordered the hairdresser-cum-studio executive to pay $3 million to his former assistant, Shelly Morita, who waged a five-year legal battle to bring her former boss to justice. Morita will get $822,000 in lost wages on top of $2.5 million in punitive damages.
According to an August 27 article at msnbc.com, “[the] 44-year-old single mother sued Peters and his company, J.P. Organization Inc., in December 2006, alleging he fondled her at his Malibu home and climbed into bed with her in an Australian hotel during the 2005 filming of “Superman Returns.” She claimed that she couldn’t find work in Hollywood after suing Peters because of his pull in the industry.”
A Hollywood Reporter article reported that: “Peters [also allegedly] withheld a $25,000 Christmas bonus until [Morita] signed a confidentiality agreement.”
The former hairdresser vowed to appeal the decision. But some pundits and entertainment watchers are considering the jury verdict to be a kind of “shot across the bow” – warning Hollywood executives, producers, agents, and other big wigs that the “swimming with the sharks” treatment will not, and should not, be tolerated.
Swimming with Sharks, starring Kevin Spacey, is about a tyrannical producer who tormented his young wannabe-Hollywood-player assistant until the assistant snapped, kidnapped Spacey and returned the torment, literally. It’s no secret among Hollywood insiders that Hollywood players often mistreat, abuse, harass, and otherwise degrade their assistants. It’s an open secret, actually. But, the question is: What can be done to change the culture in Hollywood so that these big wigs treat assistants and other supporting staffers with respect – or at least end the most flagrant abuses?
Is it a matter of simply going after the worst offenders – like Mr. Peters – or is it a matter of more systematically changing the culture in Hollywood to hammer home the point that bad treatment of employees will simply not be tolerated? Or maybe it is both – go after every violation until the norm changes.
It is indeed possible for whole industries to be corrupt. The New York City restaurant industry, for instance, for years engaged in bad practices that allowed “a cultural norm” to develop that encouraged restaurateurs to violate wage and hour laws. Thanks to persistent legal action against these restaurateurs – waged in part by Joseph and Herzfeld’s own attorney Maimon Kirschenbaum – we may now soon see changes to the culture. But it’s no doubt going to be a long and vigorous battle.
If you or someone you care about has recently been mistreated, harassed, or retaliated against, the team at Joseph & Kirschenbaum can help you. Connect with us today at (212) 688-5640, or explore more about our firm at www.jhllp.com.