When Genie Harrison talks, it’s hard not to sit up and pay attention. Harrison ― an employment attorney based in L.A. who represents survivors of discrimination, retaliation and sexual assault ― has a cool and commanding voice honed by years of addressing courtrooms. And when I bring up recent comments from Harvey Weinstein’s legal team that the disgraced media mogul feels “railroaded” by the accusations against him, her voice deepens almost to a growl.
“He is the victimizer. He is the perpetrator,” Harrison seethes, before taking a swipe at Weinstein’s legal team for co-opting the concept of victimization for their client’s benefit. “They’re trying to go with ‘up is down and down is up.’”
Harrison’s fight for her legal clients is personal. She’s a survivor of child sex abuse, and says that she works each day to be the lawyer she would have wanted to have: “I share my story with my clients, and I help walk them through all of this, and I help them take their power back.”
Right now, she’s involved in some of the biggest cases of the Me Too era, including representing Sandeep Rehal, a former Weinstein assistant who worked for the Weinstein Company between 2013 and 2015 and has accused her old boss of pervasive harassment. In her complaint, Rehal claimed that Weinstein dictated emails while naked, called her a “cunt” and a “pussy” and required her to inject him with erectile dysfunction shots. (He has denied the allegations.)
Weinstein has reportedly hired private investigators and former Israeli intelligence agents to help derail would-be accusers and deter journalists from looking into his past behavior. But Harrison says she hasn’t wavered. “I am not intimidated. I have a tremendous energy source for going after abusers of their power because I have been a victim of that repeatedly. There is nothing that stops me.”
Rehal’s case has thrown into sharp relief the next big battle on Harrison’s docket ― the fight against forced arbitration, the term for when an employee isn’t permitted to take their case to court, and instead has to resolve their dispute in a private forum that’s designed by the very corporation facing the complaint.
According to Harrison, Rehal was forced to sign an agreement that had an arbitration provision in it. “That’s the way the problem gets perpetuated,” Harrison says.
Forced arbitration and the murky world of nondisclosure agreements have come up frequently since the allegations against Weinstein became widely known. Just this week, Rowena Chiu, another former assistant at Miramax, the company founded by Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob, came forward claiming Harvey sexually abused her in 1988. Chiu says she remained silent for years due to a restrictive NDA, and told her story to journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor for their book “She Said,” which details the reporting that preceded the Me Too fallout in late 2017.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has called forced arbitration “un-American,” and prominent women including adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson have spoken out forcefully against the practice.
Earlier this year, Harrison went to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the passing of the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act, which would invalidate pre-dispute arbitration agreements that apply to claims of harassment and discrimination, among other things. The legislation has garnered bipartisan support, including from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest defenders.
But given the current administration, Harrison isn’t holding her breath for the FAIR Act to become law.
“It’s to the detriment of human beings, and people are starting to catch on to that,” she explains. “But would [the FAIR Act] be signed by the current president? I don’t think it would.”
The Me Too era means that firms like Harrison’s are busier than ever. In addition to Harrison’s fight on behalf of Rehal, she is pursuing a victory in a similarly high-profile battle against actor Kevin Spacey.
One case against Spacey was dramatically dismissed by Massachusetts prosecutors earlier this year after his accuser pleaded the Fifth. But Harrison’s client, a massage therapist publicly known only as “John Doe,” is still pursuing litigation against the actor.
According to court documents, Doe claims that in October 2016, he was assaulted by the former “House of Cards” actor while giving a massage at his Malibu residence. He says Spacey attempted to fondle his genitals and tried to kiss him. A court affirmed in May that Doe should be allowed to remain anonymous while the case continues. He was later ordered to disclose his identity to Spacey’s lawyers, though not to the public.
Outside of these high-profile cases, Harrison has been on the front lines trying to alter the legal system itself. Last year, she teamed up with actor Mira Sorvino to encourage California to pass SB1300, a state bill that would make it easier for victims of sexual harassment to make a claim against someone they work with. The legislation passed and went into effect at the start of 2019.
And while the criminal case against Weinstein has been pushed to January 2020 (he was originally scheduled to appear in a Manhattan court this month), there are reports that a separate $44 million settlement is in the works ― something Rehal, Harrison’s client, would be included in. When I ask Harrison whether financial compensation is the right balm for her clients, she’s adamant: “The Weinstein Company is in bankruptcy. Harvey Weinstein no longer has a juggernaut of power and ability to intimidate and victimize other people. It’s done, it’s over. Is that justice? Absolutely.”
UPDATE: Sept. 18 ― John Doe, the massage therapist suing Kevin Spacey, has died, it was reported Wednesday. Spacey’s attorneys filed a notice in federal court Tuesday saying Doe’s legal team had informed them of his death the week before. Further information about Doe’s death was not immediately available.
“Mr. Doe was a dignified, kind, middle-aged man traumatized by Spacey’s alleged sexually depraved attack,” Genie Harrison said in a statement made available to HuffPost. “As a result of this case, other victims from around the world have reached out to our firm. Mr. Doe believed their harrowing stories, and in his final months he looked forward to standing up for all of them. His fight for justice is still very much alive.”
This story has been updated with information about Doe’s death.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.