Artforum Moves to Dismiss Lawsuit That Accuses Knight Landesman of Sexual Harassment and Defamation
The magazine denies Amanda Schmitt's claims of retaliation, negligence, and defamation, but says "we will in no way defend Knight."
Artforum has moved to dismiss the lawsuit brought by former employee Amanda Schmitt, who, along with several other women, has accused the magazine’s former co-publisher Knight Landesman 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. None of these alleged events have any relevance to Plaintiffs claim,” read the motion filed on Friday by Artforum‘s attorney, Bettina Plevan.
Plevan, a high-profile employment lawyer, successfully defended Penthouse founder Bob Guccione in his sexual harassment lawsuit in 2009 and later defended New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver against accusations that he fostered a workplace environment that was hostile to women.
Landesman, who is also a party in the suit, has yet to formally respond. He could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Schmitt’s lawsuit in New York Supreme Court alleges that Landesman—who was, for 35 years, the public face of Artforum—began harassing her when she was a 21-year-old circulation assistant at the magazine in 2009. She says the harassment continued after she left the job in 2012 and, four years later, she approached Artforum‘s management with her allegations. She claims in the lawsuit that co-publisher Charles Guarino admitted he knew about Landesman’s conduct with women and that the magazine promised that it was “taking action to insure that whatever may have transpired never happens again.”
Despite these assurances, she alleges, Landesman continued harassing her and both he and the magazine’s management retaliated against her for speaking out, including by making slanderous remarks about her to professional contacts and the media. She is seeking $500,000 in damages.
Because Schmitt’s employment at Artforum ended more than five years ago, she has exceeded the statute of limitations to bring a sexual harassment lawsuit. The case instead focuses on allegations of slander, retaliation, and defamation.
In one incident, Schmitt claims that Landesman retaliated against her when, at a chance meeting at a restaurant in May 2017, he approached her as she was dining with her friend, sometime Artforum contributor Alex Kitnick, and her partner, artist Nicolas Guagnini.
“Landesman sat down at the table uninvited and, in front of Guagnini and Kitnick, claimed that Schmitt had ‘unfairly accused’ him of sexual harassment,” the complaint reads. “He demanded that Schmitt discuss the matter with him in front of Guagnini and Kitnick and claimed they would ‘help [her] understand the reality.'”
Artforum claims in the new motion that Landesman was not acting as a representative of the magazine that night and that the magazine had no duty to protect her, since by then she was no longer an employee.
Schmitt’s lawsuit also argues that statements allegedly made by Artforum‘s three co-publishers to staff—including that her claims were part of a “campaign” “to take down Artforum“—constituted slander. Further, it points to their October statements to artnet News that her allegations “appear to be unfounded” and that her relationship with Landesman was one that “she herself worked hard to create and maintain.”
Artforum argues that those are statements of opinion, not fact, and therefore do not amount to slander. The magazine also points out that Schmitt has not claimed any financial damages as a result of these statements, only emotional trauma.
The day after artnet News published our initial report, Schmitt filed her lawsuit and Landesman resigned. He remains, however, a co-owner of the magazine, along with the three remaining co-publishers, Charles Guarino, Tony Korner, and Danielle McConnell. A spokesperson for the magazine declined to reveal the percentage of his stake, but said it is “very small.”
“When Amanda Schmitt came to us with her initial complaint about Knight Landesman, we took the information very seriously,” the three co-publishers said in a statement on Friday. “At the time, she was not employed by Artforum, nor had she been for more than four years. Nevertheless, we took immediate action to support her and have put into place additional procedures to reinforce our commitment to a safe and equitable workplace. Ms. Schmitt’s complaint was the first and only one made to us about Mr. Landesman by a current or former employee, or industry colleague.”
The publishers continued: “The lawsuit is not a claim of harassment; it is a claim of retaliation, negligence, and defamation—actions Artforum denies. Artforum has moved to have these claims dismissed. Mr. Landesman is no longer employed by Artforum, has been removed from our board of directors, and is represented by separate legal counsel.”
Schmitt’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Artforum‘s publishers e-mailed staff on Friday evening to alert them of the motion to dismiss the lawsuit and to assure them that “we will in no way defend Knight or his actions.”
To date, nearly two dozen women have come forward with allegations against Landesman. Their accounts tend to follow a similar pattern. Often, they say, he would start by offering career help and then arrange purportedly professional meetings at his private office, a hotel, or restaurant. During those meetings, he would ask inappropriate questions about their sex lives. Several women say that he groped them in these meetings or at parties.
Earlier this week, Schmitt was named one of TIME magazine’s “People of the Year,” an accolade that went out jointly to women who publicly spoke out against alleged sexual harassers in their industries.
UPDATE: On Saturday, an attorney for Amanda Schmitt submitted the following statement on the magazine’s motion to dismiss.
“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.”
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