Academy Award-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis was ordered by a New York jury on Thursday to pay a minimum of $7.5 million to a woman who accused him of rape. The jury also awarded punitive damages to the plaintiff, with the amount to be determined later, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The accusations were part of several #MeToo-era cases that have been responsible for putting many Hollywood figures in a whole different spotlight in the last few years.
Haggis, known mainly for writing Best Picture Oscar-winners Million Dollar Baby and Crash, was accused by Haleigh Breest, a publicist who had become acquainted with the writer-director while working at movie premiers in the early 2010s. Following a screening party in January 2013, Haggis offered her a ride home and then invited her to his New York apartment for a drink.
Breest, 36, said that Haggis then made unwanted sexual advances and ultimately coerced her into performing oral sex and raped her despite her saying to stop. Haggis, 69, claimed that she was flirtatious and, though she sometimes seemed “conflicted,” initiated kissing and oral sex in a consensual manner. He said he was not able to recall whether they had intercourse.
Jurors sided with Breest, who claimed she suffered psychological and professional consequences as a result of her encounter with Haggis. She sued him in late 2017.
“I thought I was getting a ride home,” she told jurors. “I agreed to have a drink. What happened never should have happened. And it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with him and his actions.”
Breest has said she ultimately decided to file suit against Haggis because he condemned convicted rapist and former Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein, who is now on trial for similar accusations in L.A., having already been convicted of similar charges in New York as well, and sentenced to 23 years there.
“This man raped me, and he is presenting himself as a champion of women to the world,” Breest recalled thinking.
Four other women also testified that they had been harassed—in one case, raped—by Haggis in other encounters dating back to 1996. None of the four took legal action.
“The behavior showed me that he was somebody who was never going to stop,” one woman told the court, saying that Haggis repeatedly tried to kiss her against her will and even followed her into and out of a taxi to her apartment in Toronto in 2015. His lawyers sought to assail the accusers’ credibility.
Haggis denied all allegations and told the jurors that they had left him shaken.
“I’m scared because I don’t know why women, why anyone, would lie about things like this,” he said.
Breest’s lawyers, Ilann Maazal and Zoe Salzman, said in a statement Thursday, “We’re pleased to see justice served for our client, Haleigh Breest. After the jury heard a mountain of undeniable evidence against Mr. Haggis, they did the right thing and held him accountable for his deplorable behavior. We commend Ms. Breest for the bravery it took to come forward. She stood up for herself and for all women.”
Breest said in a statement, “I am grateful that I had the opportunity to seek justice and accountability in court—and that the jury chose to follow the facts—and believed me. The greatest source of comfort through this five year legal journey has been the support I felt from the women who bravely shared their own stories and let me know I wasn’t alone.”