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Artforum Files Motion to Dismiss Knight Landesman Sexual Harassment Suit

Knight Landesman at the Armory Show in 2015.

KATHERINE MCMAHON

In a new court filing, Artforum has asked for the dismissal of the lawsuit filed against it in October by a former staff member, Amanda Schmitt, who alleges that the magazine’s former publisher, Knight Landesman, sexually harassed her for years, during the time she worked there and in the time afterward. The lawsuit named both Artforum and Landesman as defendants.

A representative of Artforum clarified to ARTnews that “Artforum has separated from Landesman. The separation is total and complete. Artforum is responding separately to the lawsuit only on behalf of the magazine. The magazine will not protect or defend Landesman.” Landesman has his own legal representation, separate from Artforum, and he has not yet responded to the suit.

Schmitt claims in her suit that Artforum’s publishers retaliated against her for approaching them with her complaints by excluding her from events and dinners, and slandered her when after she went public with her allegations, allegedly telling staffers that her suit was an effort to “take down Artforum.”

The magazine’s motion, filed by Artforum International Magazine, Inc.’s lawyer, Bettina B. Plevan, a partner at Proskauer Rose LLP, argues that Schmitt’s suit should be tossed out because “none of [those claims] have alleged an adequate legal or factual basis,” and adds that the alleged actions took place years after her employment at the publication. It says that the claims of “slander and defamation should be dismissed because the alleged statements were not defamatory in nature” and “were statements of opinion not fact.”

The motion also maintains that the suit contains extraneous and inadmissible details about settlement discussions and claims from other women of mistreatment by Landesman. “All of this verbiage has, not surprisingly, generated extensive media coverage characterizing this suit as a sexual harassment complaint,” the suit says. “But the Courts do not exist to serve the public relations objectives of the parties.”

“Amanda Schmitt’s employment at Artforum ended more than five years ago,” the motion, filed Friday in New York Superior Court, says. “Although she does not assert any claim of sexual harassment, the complaint is laden with irrelevant allegations about the conduct of a former employee of Artforum, defendant Knight Landesman, including alleged conduct towards eight other individuals concerning events that occurred almost five years ago.” (Schmitt is the sole plaintiff in the case.)

Schmitt’s lawsuit contends that Landesman made “unwelcome physical contact and repulsive written and oral demands for intimacy” while she was employed at the magazine, from 2009 to 2012, and in the years following her employment. According to the lawsuit, in June 2016, Schmitt met with Charles Guarino and Danielle McConnell, two of the magazine’s three publishers, and made them aware of Landesman’s remarks, some of which had been sent to Schmitt via email. Guarino and McConnell told Schmitt that they would take action against Landesman for his behavior.

In May of this year, while she was at dinner with her partner and a critic, Schmitt says that she ran into Landesman, who, according to her complaint, demanded that she discuss her allegations of harassment in front of her fellow diners. Schmitt’s lawyer, Emily Reisbaum, sent Artforum a letter with information about Schmitt’s account, as well as those of other women. (Further accounts of Landesman’s misbehavior from women who are not discussed in the suit have since been reported by ARTnews and other publications.) Reisbaum alleges that she demanded that Artforum pay for Schmitt’s therapy and legal bills, but after the magazine asked Schmitt not to speak to the press, she decided to file suit. (The representative of Artforum told ARTnews that Artforum did not try to silence Schmitt, and added later that it was a case of “neither side being able to agree on mutual confidentiality clauses.”)

The motion argues that, since Landesman’s meeting with Schmitt happened in May and since she had left Artforum more than five years before that, she cannot file a claim of retaliation. New York City anti-discrimination law requires contested events to have taken place within three years of employment. Plevan goes on to note, “The publishers told her they took her complaint seriously and would take appropriate action, which they did.”

The legal team representing Schmitt wrote, “On October 25, Amanda Schmitt filed a lawsuit exposing decades of harassment by Artforum co-publisher Knight Landesman, resulting in his resignation hours after she filed. . . . That same day, Artforum acknowledged a hostile work environment and pledged to transform its work culture into a place of ‘zero tolerance’—consistent with its ‘feminist ideals.’ Yesterday, Artforum made a mockery of its commitment. Instead of celebrating Schmitt’s courage, Artforum is raising meritless arguments to try to get her case thrown out. Schmitt will continue to fight Artforum and work towards exposing the hypocrisy.”

By the time Landesman left the company on October 25, one day after Artnet News went to press with the first reported accounts of his misbehavior, he had worked at the magazine for more than 35 years.

Update, Dec. 9, 2017, 9:35 a.m.: The article has been amended to include additional clarification from a representative of Artforum.

Update, Dec. 9, 2017, 12:15 p.m.: A correction about the statute of limitations for discrimination claims has been made to this post. The description of allegations included in the original suit have also been clarified, and a comment from an Artforum spokesperson on the settlement discussions has been added.

Update, Dec. 9, 2017, 4:30 p.m.: A statement from the legal team representing Schmitt has been added to this post.

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