Former Artforum employee Amanda Schmitt has found partial success in an appeal filed against the magazine in a closely watched case that amounts to the first public legal action related to the #MeToo movement in the art world.
A New York appeals court has reversed a lower court’s dismissal of two of Schmitt’s four claims against Artforum. She may now proceed with her lawsuit alleging that the magazine retaliated against her after she reported its former co-publisher, Knight Landesman, for sexual harassment, and that its publishers failed to make good on their promise to protect her from his unwanted advances. The court dismissed all claims against Landesman personally.
Schmitt, who was an intern and later a circulation assistant at the prominent art magazine beginning in 2009, was among the first of nearly two dozen women to come forward with sexual-harassment accusations against Landesman. She says that when she brought her concerns to the magazine’s three other co-publishers, they promised protection but instead retaliated against her by making disparaging statements about her in the press and to Artforum staff, and by excluding her from industry events it hosted.
After Schmitt’s allegations became public in 2017, the three publishers told Artnet News that her claims were “unfounded” and characterized them as “an attempt to exploit a relationship that [she] herself worked hard to create and maintain.”
The judges didn’t look kindly on this in their decision, which was issued yesterday. “Artforum’s verbal and written disparagement of plaintiff, especially after she explained her plight and displayed Landesman’s emails, combined with allegations that Artforum sought to effectively freeze her out of the close-knit business and professional trade in which she was engaged, adequately set forth retaliation claims under the New York City Human Rights Law,” they wrote.
The judges maintained, however, that Schmitt did not provide “adequate grounds” to proceed with her defamation and negligence claims against the magazine—nor any of her claims against Landesman. They dismissed her argument that he had defamed her when he confronted her and her friends in a New York City restaurant and “threaten[ed] to discuss the ‘details’ of what she’d said about him,” arguing that whatever the implication of Landesman’s statement, it did not amount to threats “in any explicit sense.”
(Because the five-year statute of limitations to bring a sexual harassment lawsuit had run out by the time Schmitt filed her claims in 2017, her suit instead focused on allegations of slander, retaliation, and defamation that she says took place once she spoke out about the alleged mistreatment.)
The appeals court’s decision holds “the magazine accountable for its efforts to undermine her professionally after she raised the alarm about Landesman’s years of abuse,” Schmitt’s attorney Emily Reisbaum told Artnet News in an email. “There is now no doubt, as Schmitt has been saying all along, that Artforum not only permitted Landesman’s abuse to pervade its workplace and prestigious events, but it also punished Schmitt—not Landesman—for speaking the truth about his perversity. We hope this reversal will, finally, force Artforum to take responsibility for the harm it has caused to so many women.”
Attorneys for Landesman and Artforum declined to comment.
Landesman resigned from Artforum in Ocober 2017, the day after allegations about his conduct were published on Artnet News and after Schmitt first filed her lawsuit. He remains a partial owner of the magazine with the three remaining co-publishers.
After Landesman’s resignation, Artforum’s publishers said they spoke with employees further and now agreed that he had “engaged in unacceptable behavior and caused a hostile work environment.” They said they would create a task force of women at the magazine to address its workplace environment.
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