Oscar-winning director, Paul Haggis has been ordered to pay $7.5m in damages to a film publicist after he was found liable of raping her at his New York City apartment in 2013.
A jury in a civil court trial ordered Haggis, 69, to make the payment to Haleigh Breest, who accused him of rape. The jury also decided that additional punitive damages should be awarded, but the amount is to be decided later.
Breest, a publicist who met him while working at movie premieres in the early 2010s, said Haggis raped her after a screening afterparty in January 2013.
Following the party, he offered her a lift home and invited her to his New York apartment for a drink.
Breest, 36, said Haggis then subjected her to unwanted advances and ultimately compelled her to perform oral sex and raped her despite her requests to stop.
‘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.’
Following the verdict, Breest told reporters outside the New York courtroom that she was happy with the jury’s decision.
‘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,’ Ms. Breest said.
While Breest was jovial over her victory, Haggis and his legal team walked out in silence and did not say whether or not they would appeal the decision.
‘I’m going to continue fighting to clear my name, and we’re going to keep our options open and see what we’re going to do,’ Haggis told reporters.
Breest met him while working at movie premieres in the early 2010s. She filed her civil suit against Haggis in 2017 at the height of the #MeToo movement, claiming the renowned director had raped her on January 31, 2013, when she was 26 and working as a freelance publicist.
She said Haggis offered her a ride home after a movie premiere on the Upper West Side and over her objections took her to his loft home on Mercer Street.
Breest on October 20 recalled her cell phone being dead as she entered the director’s doorman-less building and boarded an elevator to his penthouse.
She described the kitchen and living room area and said: ‘I put my bags down, he walked toward me with his mouth open trying to kiss me.’
The director, she recalled, ‘slobbered’ as he pinned her against the refrigerator and made contact with her lips.
‘I said, ‘How about that wine?” testified Breest. ‘I wanted to remind him why I was there, for a drink, and wanted to let him know without offending him.’
‘He was an important guest. He was a friend of my boss and I didn’t want to make an enemy,’ she said.
Four other women also testified that they experienced forceful, unwelcome passes – and in one case, rape – by Haggis in separate encounters going 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 testified, 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.
Haggis has repeatedly denied the rape allegations on the stand, claiming they were filed as a plot against him by the Church of Scientology for speaking out against the group.
Haggis testified that because he spoke out against Scientology in a New Yorker article in 2011, the church has waged war against him by dredging up sexual assault accusations by Breest and the other women.
He also blamed the church for failing to help him stop cheating on his ex-wife, Deborah Rennard, who testified in defense of him last week.
The church said in a statement that it has no involvement in the matter, arguing that Haggis is trying to shame his accusers with an ‘absurd and patently false’ claim. Breest´s lawyers have called it ‘a shameful and unsupported conspiracy theory.’
The verdict came weeks after another civil jury, in the federal courthouse next door, decided that Kevin Spacey didn’t sexually abuse fellow actor and then-teenager Anthony Rapp in 1986.