ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It appears that a deal to buy what is left of The Weinstein Company is off. Just hours before the sale was to be announced, New York's attorney general filed a civil rights lawsuit against the film and television company. The AG says he's trying to protect the people who say Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and discriminated against them. NPR's Elizabeth Blair joins us now to talk about the latest. Hi, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Does the lawsuit tell us things that we didn't already know about what went on inside The Weinstein Company?
BLAIR: Well, the civil suit alleges this was a very hostile work environment. And we do know this. A lot of this stuff has been in the news already ever since the reporting by The New York Times and The New Yorker last year. This action by the New York attorney general's office is saying the gender discrimination, the sexual misconduct violates the law - harassment and worker protection laws. And - but there are still lots of disturbing examples, many we've heard.
Female employees had what they referred to as turndown service where they would be called to Harvey Weinstein's hotel room. He would be naked under a bathrobe, and he would pretty much insist the employee give him a massage. Employees were asked to arrange sexual encounters. Female employees were expected to do things men were not, like taking care of Harvey Weinstein's children.
The lawsuit also says - and this is really important - that executives and the board and Harvey's brother, Bob Weinstein, knew this was going on but did nothing, that corporate officers repeatedly failed to protect employees from Harvey Weinstein. So as you can imagine, Ari, if these claims are accurate, this was a scary place to work. And Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, now says the misconduct is also against New York state law.
SHAPIRO: And what's the response from the Weinstein Company?
BLAIR: Harvey Weinstein's attorney Ben Brafman issued a statement denying the allegations, saying they are without merit.
SHAPIRO: So interesting timing that the New York attorney general filed the suit just as the company was about to be sold. Why do you think he waited until the last minute?
BLAIR: I mean, the lawsuit was filed because Eric Schneiderman did not believe the sale was going to make things right at the Weinstein Company. He felt the deal did not include adequate compensation for the victims. He says it also kept some of the same officers of the company in place, executives who he says were enablers of Harvey Weinstein's misconduct.
SHAPIRO: Tell us about who the buyers were supposed to be.
BLAIR: The buyers were a group of investors led by Maria Contreras-Sweet. She's perhaps best known for running the Small Business Administration under President Obama. Publicly, Contreras-Sweet has said she wanted to make changes. A source for the Contreras-Sweet team told me she wanted to transform it into a place that was welcoming to women. Most notably, she wanted to create a female-majority board. She also did have a victims compensation fund of $50 million.
But again, Attorney General Schneiderman said that was not enough. He really objects to keeping current executives in place. He says this was a pattern of misconduct that went on for years and that they shouldn't be in charge of a victims fund. Schneiderman held a press conference today in New York, and here's some of what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN: This pattern of misconduct should be unacceptable to anyone who wants to reimagine the company. We don't want those people rewarded. We want employees protected. We want victims compensated, simple principles that were not in the deal that was presented to us.
SHAPIRO: It's safe to say The Weinstein Company's brand is really toxic right now. Why would anyone want to buy it?
BLAIR: That's a good question. The brand is toxic, and anyone who buys it probably should change the name.
BLAIR: I think that's already being discussed. But it does have assets. It's got a valuable library of movies, like Oscar winners "The King's Speech" and "The Artist." It also has the Quentin Tarantino movies, "Django Unchained." It has television assets like "Project Runway." But the Weinstein Company is also heavily in debt, so it now looks like it may be facing bankruptcy.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Elizabeth Blair, thank you very much.
BLAIR: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALAN WILKIS' "THE HUSTLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.