Ruling in Paul Haggis Case Gives Lift to #MeToo Lawsuits

Ruling in Paul Haggis Case Gives Lift to #MeToo Lawsuits

Seth Zuckerman, a lawyer for Mr. Haggis, said the director maintained his innocence, but Mr. Zuckerman did not say if he would appeal the ruling to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Ms. Breest first went to court in December 2017 against Mr. Haggis, the director of “Crash” and writer of “Million Dollar Baby,” both of which won Oscars for best picture.

According to her lawsuit, Ms. Breest and Mr. Haggis attended a New York premiere party in January 2013. Afterward, Mr. Haggis, then 59, invited her to his apartment, where Ms. Breest, then 26, said he forced her to have sex.

New York City passed its law after a similar provision in a federal law was struck down by the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that Congress did not have the authority to enact it. One earlier ruling on the city’s law came in a suit filed by the pop singer Kesha. In that case, Justice Shirley W. Kornreich of State Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled in 2016 that a rape alone was not evidence of animus toward all women. “Every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime,” she wrote. On Thursday, the appeals court concluded the opposite.

Ms. Breest and her lawyers said they did have other evidence that Mr. Haggis had animus toward women, including statements she claimed he made during the encounter, and allegations of misconduct from three other women. But the appeals court ruled on Thursday that no further evidence was necessary, and it ordered that the three women be removed from the case, at least for now. Mr. Haggis had argued that the women’s accounts were vague and would unfairly hobble his defense against Ms. Breest’s accusations.

Several women’s and civil rights organizations had filed a brief supporting Ms. Breest’s case.

“This decision was so powerful because it says you don’t need quote-unquote additional facts,” said Sunu Chandy, the legal director of the National Women’s Law Center, one of the groups that participated. “You don’t need additional people. Sexual assault is a gender-based crime. And that very simple, powerful comment is what the law should be.”

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