Harvey Weinstein’s former assistant has broken a non-disclosure agreement to tell the public what she and another coworker went through while working for him. Zelda Perkins, the former assistant for Miramax offices in London, recently broke her NDA with the company in order to highlight how these agreements silence victims of sexual harassment.
Perkins alleges that Weinstein sexually harassed her for “several years,” and that he would frequently wander around the room naked when they were alone, harass her for a massage, and attempt to pull her into bed with him. She was finally spurred to quit when another female colleague told her that he had sexually assaulted her at the 1998 Venice Film Festival. “She was white as a sheet and shaking and in a very bad emotional state,” Perkins said, in her NDA-breaking interview with the Financial Times. “She told me something terrible had happened. She was in shock and crying and finding it very hard to talk. I was furious, deeply upset and very shocked. I said: ‘We need to go to the police’ but she was too distressed. Neither of us knew what to do in a foreign environment.”
When the pair attempted to report the assault to the legal system, they faced a wall of resistance. Perkins says that the law firm Simons Muirhead & Burton advised the pair to pursue a settlement claim, and were “reluctant” to pursue the case further. “They said words to the effect of: ‘they are not going to take your word against his with no evidence,’” Perkins recounted. “I was warned that he and his lawyers would try to destroy my credibility if I went to court. They told me he would try to destroy me and my family.”
During the legal settlement, Perkins endured days of questioning by Weinstein’s lawyers, including a twelve-hour session that ended at 5 am. “I was made to feel ashamed for disclosing his behavior and assault, and expected to name those I had spoken to as if they too were guilty of something,” she told the Financial Times. The negotiations took an emotional toll on Perkins, and she says that she was “pretty broken after the negotiation process.” Although Perkins was asked to sign an NDA during the procedure, the final legal agreement prohibited her from keeping a copy of it as proof. Perkins expressed that she was “baffled” by a legal system that would not allow her to keep a record of a contract that she had signed.
However, Perkins does have a list of the obligations her NDA required her to keep. One of the clauses states that if Perkins were to be subpoenaed to give evidence in a “criminal legal process” involving Weinstein, that she would have to give 48 hours’ notice to his lawyers before proceeding. It also states that she must “use all reasonable endeavors to limit the scope of the disclosure as far as possible”, and give “reasonable assistance” to Miramax “if it elects to contest such process”.
Although an NDA cannot legally prevent someone from reporting a crime to the police or other law enforcement agencies, the penalties for speaking out are extensive. In some cases, an alleged victim who reports may have to pay back not just the full amount of the settlement, but the party’s resulting legal fees. Recently, a coalition of anonymous employees of The Weinstein Company issued a statement demanding that the company board release them from their NDAs so they can speak openly, and “get to the origins of what happened here, and how.” So far, the company has not responded.
Perkins is aware of the risk that she is taking in breaking her NDA, but believes it’s important to talk about the behind-the-scenes legal procedures that stop other survivors from reporting. “The inequality of power is so stark and relies on money rather than morality,” she told the Financial Times. “Unless somebody does this, there won’t be a debate about how egregious these agreements are and the amount of duress that victims are put under.”
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