A New York state court has dismissed the lawsuits that a former Artforum employee brought against the magazine and its former publisher, Knight Landesman, in 2017.
Amanda Schmitt, who was an intern at the august art magazine in 2009 and later a circulation assistant there, was among the first of dozens of women to come forward with accusations that Landesman sexually harassed them. But because more than five years had passed between the time Schmitt worked at Artforum and the time she brought the lawsuit, the statute of limitations had run out for her to bring a sexual harassment case. Instead, her suit centered on allegations of slander, retaliation, and defamation.
This detail was apparently crucial for the judge. “The five-year gap between [Schmitt’s] employment and the alleged wrongful acts is sufficient to eliminate any nexus between her employment and the alleged acts,” he wrote in his opinion, issued December 24.
Schmitt has not yet decided whether to file an appeal, her lawyer Emily Reisbaum said. “Amanda, her team, and all of her many supporters are disappointed in the decision,” Reisbaum told artnet News in a statement.
The day after allegations against Landesman were first published by artnet News last fall, the publisher resigned from his post. Landesman remains a partial owner of the magazine, along with its three other publishers.
In her suit, Schmitt’s attorneys claimed that Landesman and Artforum‘s publishers had defamed Schmitt in statements to artnet News that called her allegations “unfounded” and described them as “an attempt to exploit a relationship that [she] herself worked hard to create and maintain.” They also allegedly made comments to the magazine’s staff dismissing Schmitt’s complaints as an attempt to “take down Artforum.”
The judge, however, said that disparaging statements made about Schmitt did not constitute defamation because they were “merely a general reflection of [her] character” and did not target her as a professional. To qualify, the allegedly defamatory statement “must be one that asserts that the… person has acted in a manner incompatible with the proper conduct of the business or profession.”
Schmitt also accused Landesman of humiliating her in front of colleagues at a restaurant in an effort to retaliate against her for “unfairly” accusing him of harassment, telling her and her friends that he needed “to help her understand the reality.”
The judge, however, considered Landesman’s words at the restaurant irrelevant because he was no longer Schmitt’s employer at the time and they “were spoken in a purely social setting.” They also were not improper: “Defendents were entitled to make responsive statements in defense to plaintiff’s accusation,” he wrote.
The judge also did not hold Artforum accountable for Landesman’s behavior, which took place after Schmitt had left the magazine. “Landesman’s alleged bad act was not made while he was under Artforum‘s control,” the judge wrote. “At most, Artforum assumed a moral obligation; however, such an obligation does not create a legally enforceable duty.”
Schmitt’s lawsuit touched off a discussion about sexual harassment in the art world and incited the formation of the activist group #NotSurprised. Last year, she was among TIME magazine’s “Silence Breakers,” who were collectively named “Person of the Year.”
“Amanda is proud to have stood up and shone a light on Knight Landesman’s years of sexual harassment and Artforum’s enabling of it,” Reisbaum said. “Regrettably, for now, the wrongdoers have been successful in dismissing the allegations Amanda (and many others) courageously brought to light, seeking vindication from their harassment and mistreatment by Artforum’s longtime publisher and owner, and the magazine itself.”
After Landesman’s resignation, Artforum‘s publishers said they had had a change of heart after speaking further with their staff and found that he 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 the magazine’s work environment.
“While the claims against Artforum have been dismissed, we remain firm in our commitment to maintain a safe and equitable workplace for our employees and associates,” the magazine’s current publishers, Anthony Korner, Charles Guarino, and Danielle McConnell, told artnet News in a statement. Landesman’s attorney declined to comment.
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