Today lawyers for Knight Landesman, a former publisher of Artforum, filed paperwork asking a New York court to dismiss a suit brought against him by a former employee of the publication, Amanda Schmitt, who has alleged that Landesman sexually harassed her during and after her time as an employee. Her suit includes testimonies from eight other women, who claimed to have experienced similar incidents over the course of a number of years.
The suit, which was filed in late October in New York Supreme Court and led to Landesman’s resignation, targets Landesman on the grounds that he slandered Schmitt at a chance meeting this past May, when he confronted her over her allegations of sexual harassment at a New York restaurant where she was dining with her partner and a prominent art historian. At that run-in, Schmitt says, Landesman claimed he was being “unfairly accused” and that he told the others present that they needed to “help [her] understand the reality.” Her suit, which also names Artforum as a defendant, further argues that that behavior constituted retaliation.
The filing from Landesman’s attorneys contends that Landeman’s actions at the confrontation in May, rather than amounting to slander, are “clearly statements of opinion, not fact, and thus cannot be actionable.” It adds that “the only ‘conduct’ engaged in by Landesman . . . was his general denial of Schmitt’s claim.” The filing argues along similar lines on the issue of retaliation. Schmitt worked at Artforum from 2009 to 2012, and the filing also argues that any behavior after that time could not amount to retaliation, while noting that Schmitt first approached Artforum about her allegations in 2016.
Schmitt’s suit brings the same claims of retaliation and slander against Artforum, but also alleges gross negligence, promissory estoppel, and defamation against the publication, which moved to dismiss to the suit earlier this month. In its motion, Artforum’s counsel say that the details of sexual harassment in Schmitt’s suit were extraneous to the actual case. The Artforum motion reads, “All of this verbiage has, not surprisingly, generated extensive media coverage characterizing this suit as a sexual harassment complaint. But the Courts do not exist to serve the public relations objectives of the parties.”
In a statement sent to ARTnews, Schmitt’s legal team wrote, “To quote thousands of people from the art world who responded to Amanda Schmitt’s lawsuit: We are not surprised. We expected Artforum and Knight Landesman to try to dodge accountability for their revolting harassment, retaliation, and slander. And that is exactly what both Artforum and Landesman are attempting to do. Artforum made a public commitment to transform the company and its culture to be consistent with the publication’s ‘feminist ideals.’ Instead, Artforum—yet again—stands alongside Landesman, seeking to dismiss the case. We will hold them accountable.”
While the two defendants, Artforum and Landesman, are pursuing their defenses independently, Landesman’s attorneys take a similar approach to the publication’s in its response, saying that the suit includes material that is “irrelevant, salacious and intended only to unfairly prejudice the Defendants.” Landesman’s attorneys ask that the court strike that material from Schmitt’s complaint.
Update, 12/19/17, 3:45 p.m.: A statement from Schmitt’s legal team has been added to the post.