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Lawyers Duel Over Appeal in Sexual Harassment Suit Against Artforum and Knight Landesman—Justice Accuses Publisher of ‘Harangue’

Knight Landesman.

Knight Landesman.

FAIRCHILD ARCHIVE/PENSKE MEDIA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Bringing an appeal filed earlier this year to the stage for further argument, the Appellate Division of New York’s Supreme Court held a hearing on Tuesday for a lawsuit filed in 2017 against Artforum International Magazine, Inc., and the publication’s former publisher, Knight Landesman.

The case in question was first filed in October 2017 by Amanda Schmitt, who alleged that Landesman had sexually harassed her in the form of “unwelcome physical contact and repulsive written and oral demands for intimacy” while she was an employee at Artforum. More than a year later, in December of 2018, Schmitt’s case was dismissed by Judge Frank P. Nervo, who said that the suit did not meet requirements for causes of action because the original filing did not provide a sufficient case for wrongdoing on the part of Artforum.

At the hearing for Schmitt’s appeal of the dismissal on Tuesday, lawyers argued for their clients in front of five justices. Many of the arguments rested on re-airing the particulars of Landesman’s alleged conduct at a dinner in 2017, during which, according to Schmitt’s filing, the former Artforum publisher repeatedly and in a public fashion in a restaurant accused her of lying about harassment in front of her partner, artist Nicolas Guagnini, and the art writer and professor Alex Kitnick. (Artforum previously said in a statement that it does not tolerate behavior such as Landesman’s alleged misconduct, and Landesman’s legal team said in a prior statement said that “the only ‘conduct’ engaged in by Landesman . . . was his general denial of Schmitt’s claim.”)

“This happens all the time,” Margaret L. Watson, a lawyer representing Landesman, said of ways she suggested workers are treated by their superiors after leaving their place of employment.

Angela M. Mazzarelli, one of the five justices presiding over the hearing, said in response, “I don’t eat out as much as you, but I’ve never seen someone harangue someone like this in a restaurant.”

Schmitt’s original filing had also said that, after she made Artforum’s publishers aware of Landesman’s alleged misconduct, the publication retaliated against her, disinviting her from events such as dinners of a kind she had previously attended. Artforum’s lawyer, Bettina B. Plevan, said on Tuesday that this had happened after Schmitt, who is now a director at Kaufmann Repetto gallery in New York, left Artforum in 2012. Therefore, Plevan said, “it is not retaliation, because it’s not an adverse employment action.”

Emily Reisbaum, Schmitt’s lawyer, stressed that the alleged retaliation did affect Schmitt’s career and her standing within the art world. She told the justices, “Artforum and Knight Landesman can make or break someone’s career.”

A date for a future decision on Schmitt’s appeal was not established.

Correction 9/24/19, 10:00 p.m.: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of justices present at the hearing. There were five justices, not six. Additionally, one of the justices was misidentified. Angela M. Mazzarelli was present, not Judith J. Gische. The post has been updated to reflect this.

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