- A NYC jury ordered filmmaker Paul Haggis to pay publicist Haleigh Breest $7.5 million in compensatory damages on Thursday.
- Breest sued Haggis at the height of the Me Too movement in 2017, accusing him of raping her in 2013.
- Haggis won Academy Awards for the films “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
A New York City jury has ordered filmmaker Paul Haggis to pay $7.5 million in compensatory damages for raping publicist Haleigh Breest.
The verdict brought to a close Breest’s 2017 lawsuit, filed at the height of the Me Too movement. Breest had accused Haggis of assault, battery, rape, a criminal sexual act, aggravated sexual abuse and violating New York City law on gender-motivated violence in New York Supreme Court.
Thursday’s ruling covers just compensatory damages. The jury will return to court on Monday to determine punitive damages, The New York Times reported. The jury of three men and three women came to their decision after nearly six hours of deliberations Thursday.
Breest testified that Haggis raped her at his SoHo apartment in January 2013, and she decided to sue him four years later when she saw the “Crash” writer and director condemn Harvey Weinstein in a tweet after several women came forward to accuse the producer of sexual misconduct.
“The hypocrisy was next level,” Breest said on the stand. “It made me extremely upset and want to take action. I spoke to friends, did research, and then hired lawyers.”
Haggis never denied having sex with Breest but said the encounter was consensual.
His lawyers tried to convince the jury that the Church of Scientology was behind Breest’s complaint. Haggis was a member of the church for more than three decades before publicly breaking with Scientology in 2009. He has since become one of the religion’s most vocal critics.
During the trial, actress and fellow ex-Scientologist Leah Remini testified in Haggis’ defense, saying she believed that Haggis was the “real” victim in the case. She described how the Scientologists came after her when she left the religion and tried to force her into silence with the threat of lawsuits and attack videos from her own family members who were still in the church.
“They gather anything they can to hurt you and it does hurt,” Remini said.
However, even Haggis’ lawyers were forced to admit in court that they had no evidence linking Breest — or any of the other four women who testified about similar encounters with Haggis — to Scientology.
The church did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment following the verdict on Thursday. In previous statements, the church denied having anything to do with the case.
“The church has nothing to do with the claims against Haggis nor does it have any relation to the attorneys behind the case or the accusers,” a Scientology spokesperson told Insider previously. “From day one, Haggis conspired with anti-Scientologists to shame his own accusers by ‘accusing’ them of making their claims on behalf of the Church of Scientology. The claim is absurd and patently false.”
The jury ultimately decided that Breest’s lawyers proved with a preponderance of the evidence that she had been raped the night of January 31, 2013, at Haggis’ apartment.
Breest and Haggis met through her freelance work for the Cinema Society, an organization that hosts film premieres in New York City.
After an event on January 31, 2013, Breest said Haggis invited her back to his apartment for a nightcap, and she agreed to go despite misgivings because he was a powerful man in her industry.
At the apartment, Breest said Haggis forcibly kissed her and then ordered her to give him oral sex. She says she felt like a “trapped animal” as Haggis eventually proceeded to rape her vaginally. She produced the tights that she wore that night, which were analyzed and found to contain Haggis’ seminal fluid.
Haggis said he had no memory of the two having vaginal sex, but said that Breest initiated giving him oral sex before he fell asleep. While he maintained the encounter was consensual, he admitted on the stand that Breest expressed hesitation throughout the night but thought she was being “playful.”
Breest, 36, spoke about being so damaged by the attack that she’s only had sex one time since then, and it brought back the trauma of her night with Haggis.