Day 6

Former Weinstein assistant Zelda Perkins broke a NDA to speak out. Now, she wants to stop their misuse

For 20 years, Zelda Perkins stayed silent about Harvey Weinstein's alleged harassment and abuse. As Weinstein heads to trial, she's fighting to reign in the use of non-disclosure agreements like the one she signed.

'There cannot be secrecy around abusive behaviour,' she says about non-disclosure agreements

Zelda Perkins poses for a portrait prior to testifying before British lawmakers investigating workplace sexual harassment in London in March 2018. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

Zelda Perkins says the legal system must do more to hold powerful men like Harvey Weinstein accountable — and she's risking a lawsuit to push for change.

Perkins, who worked for Weinstein as an assistant in the 1990s, signed a non-disclosure agreement in 1998 after her colleague Rowena Chiu alleged that Weinstein had attempted to rape her.

The NDA legally prohibited her from speaking to anyone about the incident — including Chiu.

But in 2017, after nearly two decades of silence, she broke that agreement, becoming one of the first women to publicly speak out about allegations of Weinstein's sexual misconduct.

Now, as Harvey Weinstein goes on trial in New York for charges of rape and sexual assault, Perkins is calling on the legal profession to ban the use of NDAs in cases of workplace harassment.

Day 6 reached out to Harvey Weinstein's legal team for comment, but did not receive a response.

She told Day 6 host Brent Bambury why she sees workplace NDAs as a dangerous tool that enables criminal behaviour — and why she's fighting to restrict their use.

Here is part of their conversation.

You signed a contract with significant penalties attached to it and you decided two years ago to break that contract. Why? 

Because I discovered through Ronan Farrow that there were several rape allegations being levelled against Harvey Weinstein.

As far as I was aware, the only attempted rape was what had happened to my colleague Rowena [Chiu]. And when Ronan told me that there were potentially several more rapes, I didn't even think five minutes.

I knew at that point that I had a moral duty to break my NDA, because this was protecting potentially a serial rapist.

We were not allowed to speak to anybody. No friends, no family, husband, boyfriend, parents.- Zelda Perkins, former assistant to Harvey Weinstein

Let's go back to the room where you signed the NDA in October 1998. What do you remember about that experience? 

Well, we were asked to enter a boardroom where Harvey Weinstein and his team of lawyers would all be. We didn't want to see Harvey, but we were told that that was non-negotiable.

It was a hugely intimidating situation on all levels. I can't even imagine what it must have been like for Rowena, because the last time she had seen him was in Venice when he [allegedly] assaulted her.

For me, I was furious. I was furious to be in a room with him. I was furious with him sitting across the table trying to charm us. I was furious with the lawyers for putting us in that position.

Zelda Perkins, left, is pictured speaking with Harvey Weinstein. (Zelda Perkins)

I think the most sinister [and] shattering part of the whole experience was, interestingly, not even so much the terms that they were trying to lay down over us — it was the fact that this was a legal process.

We had told them about an alleged criminal act, and I could not compute that, first of all, our own representation and then obviously Weinstein's representation did not really seem all that concerned with that.

Settling wasn't your intention and you weren't seeking money either. What was it that you were looking for? 

We very specifically said that we didn't want money to change hands, because that would change the motivation of what we were trying to do.... Our primary demands were to stop Harvey's behaviour.

So that was by putting systems into Miramax that would protect employees so that employees understood their rights; so that there was a system of reporting.

Having an agreement that requires somebody to not speak about an abuse or a trauma is unethical.- Zelda Perkins

We wanted three different complaint handlers — one who had to be an attorney so that they, we naively thought, so that they would not be able to be pushed around by Harvey.

We asked that he went to therapy for a minimum of a year. We also put in place that if he made a similar type of settlement or agreement in the ensuing few years, that Miramax would have to inform Disney, who were Miramax's parent company. If they were not prepared to inform Disney, then they would have to fire Harvey from his own company.

We also asked for things like he should only travel with a male assistant.

Some of the things [we asked for] we lost during the negotiations. But the first three that I just told you were in there.

But you came to see this agreement as being grossly asymmetrical. 

It wouldn't have been asymmetrical if our demands had been upheld. 

I presumed, as did my colleague, that if we didn't keep to strictly our demands, we'd be sent to jail. That's what we thought. And we presumed that the same feeling would be on the other side of the contract. 

Zelda Perkins signed a non-disclosure agreement in 1998 after her colleague, Rowena Chiu, alleged that Harvey Weinstein attempted to rape her. (Pascal Leblond/CBC)

What were the restrictions that you were under? 

We were not allowed to speak to anybody.... No friends, no family, husband, boyfriend, parents. We were not allowed to speak to each other. 

We were allowed to speak to a therapist if the therapist signed their own non-disclosure agreement with Miramax before speaking to us. And if that therapist then breached that non-disclosure agreement, Rowena and I would have been the ones held responsible for that breach.

So we had guns pointing at us from every side. We weren't even allowed to hold a copy of our own agreements. We could only visit our agreements in our attorney's office. 

When did it become clear that that was going to have an effect on the quality of your life?

After we'd signed the agreement, and Rowena and I shared a taxi to the train station, and when we got out of the taxi we said goodbye to each other, and we said, "I'm never going to speak to you again." And I think that was the first moment of realization of how extraordinary this was.

Zelda Perkins quit Weinstein's film company in 1998. (Zelda Perkins)

We both then had a very difficult time trying to find employment again in the film industry, which, again, naively we hadn't considered during the negotiations, because we were given a nice reference from Weinstein.

But ... everybody in the U.K. film industry knew me very well and knew me as Harvey's sort of right-hand person in the U.K. and Europe.

So when I started going to interviews, everyone's like, "so come on, what's happened with you and Harvey? Were you and Harvey in a relationship? If we employ you, is that going to cause a problem for us?"

Beyond the devastating effect that the NDA had on your career, how else did this agreement affect your life? 

I was so disillusioned and broken by what had happened through my experience with the legal process. And I ended up moving to Central America, to Guatemala, where I lived for five years because I couldn't bear to be in a environment that wasn't what I believed it to be. 

I believed that I had been naive and stupid to believe that our culture would protect me. 

There is a huge difference between privacy and secrecy, and there cannot be secrecy around abusive behaviour.- Zelda Perkins

And so I put myself in sort of enforced purdah. But it was also a safe environment for me to be in because nobody was going to care or be interested in my previous life. 

You had legal representation when you signed this deal ... Do you understand why your lawyers let you take this on? 

I believe they thought they were doing the right thing and the best thing for me in that situation, and I don't blame them.

I believe that our legal team were actually very proud of what they had achieved for us, because the clauses that they had got into the agreement were pretty groundbreaking. And if they had been upheld, we wouldn't be in the situation we're in today. 

Do you believe that there are any circumstances where NDAs are warranted? 

Of course, in the area that they were designed for, which is protection of intellectual property and trade secrets.

These are not agreements to silence people; to hide abusive, criminal, discriminatory behaviour. 

Perkins says she tried to prevent Weinstein from abusing women almost two decades ago, making him sign a legal agreement that required him to seek therapy and mend his ways. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

There are advocates for women who are in similar situations to the ones that you and Rowena Chiu were in who say that NDAs are the only way to compel reparations from powerful people. What do you say to those women? 

I completely understand that, but that's a fallacy.

I cannot go on saying this enough: Having an agreement that requires somebody to not speak about an abuse or a trauma is unethical. There is a huge difference between privacy and secrecy, and there cannot be secrecy around abusive behaviour.

It allows perpetrators to continue, and it means that organizations cannot identify a pattern of abuse from certain individuals. 

You took great personal risk to speak out against Harvey Weinstein and you're risking legal action by speaking with me today. Do you think Weinstein's legal team might come after you one day? 

I don't think they would be that foolish.

One of the reasons I felt that I could break the agreement was the overwhelming evidence against Harvey [Weinstein]. And I am not a victim, as such, of assault. So I'm in a very different position, I think, than a lot of the women who suffered a direct trauma.

Maybe I'm wrong. I don't know. But I also felt that public opinion would surely protect me, and human rights law would surely protect me.

I can only believe that that's why I've never heard anything from the Weinstein legal team at any point. 

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Zelda Perkins, download our podcast or click Listen above.