An appellate court in New York heard arguments today about whether to allow former Artforum employee Amanda Schmitt to move forward with an appeal of her lawsuit against the magazine and its ex-publisher Knight Landesman, whom she has accused of sexual harassment and defamation.
Schmitt’s attorneys argued that the judge who dismissed her case in December failed to properly interpret the New York City Human Rights Law when he decided that too much time had passed between her employment at the magazine, which ended in 2012, and the time she filed her lawsuit, in 2017. (The statute of limitations for bringing a sexual harassment suit had run out; Schmitt’s lawsuit instead focused on Landesman and the magazine’s alleged retaliation, defamation, and slander.)
“Landesman’s alleged bad act was not made while he was under Artforum’s control,” the judge wrote in his decision to dismiss Schmitt’s case. “At most, Artforum assumed a moral obligation; however, such an obligation does not create a legally enforceable duty.”
But Schmitt’s lawyers pointed out in the hearing today that the New York City Human Rights Law protects all employees, past and present, and that Landesman’s alleged retaliation against Schmitt has harmed her career as a curator post-Artforum as well. In one example of the alleged retaliation, Schmitt says that Landesman once approached her while she was dining with friends at a restaurant and told her that she had “unfairly” accused him of sexual harassment and implored her friends, who were also professionals in the art industry, “to help her understand the reality.”
The panel of judges, who have yet to reach a decision on the appeal, seemed receptive to Schmitt’s arguments. When Landesman’s attorney argued that any retaliation against Schmitt would “simply not [be] a violation” because it happened after her employment ended, one judge pointed to Artforum‘s prominence in the industry and said, “although she left their employ, she’s still in their circles, still affected” by its influence.
When Landesman’s attorney, Margaret Watson, asserted that her client was “allowed” to state his opinion that he had been falsely accused, another judge interrupted: “Is he allowed to harangue her in a public place?”
Meanwhile, Artforum’s lawyer, Bettina Plevan—who has previously defended several high-profile men against sexual harassment allegations—argued that time had simply run out for Schmitt to make these claims, wondering whether the court should really start allowing people to “go back four years, 20 years and make a complaint?”
“Is that your strongest argument?” one of the judges asked in response.
“It’s one of many arguments,” Plevan shot back.
Landesman resigned from Artforum one day after artnet News published several allegations made against Landesman and the same day Schmitt first filed her lawsuit. In the following days, more than a dozen other women came forward with further accusations against Landesman, who remains a partial owner of the magazine, along with its three other publishers.
Artforum’s publishers initially defended Landesman in the face of Schmitt’s allegations, but after the news broke, said that they had had a change of heart. Speaking further with their staff had shown them, they said, that Landesman had in fact “engaged in unacceptable behavior and caused a hostile work environment.” They pledged to create a task force of women at the magazine to overhaul its work environment.
A representative for Artforum declined to comment for this story. Attorneys for Landesman and Schmitt did not immediately respond.
After the hearing, a dozen or so supporters of Schmitt followed her into the lobby to congratulate her. Landesman’s attorney and Artforum‘s attorney left together.