The casting couch in Hollywood falls within the purview of sexual harassment laws in California. That was the big deal ruling coming out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday in actor Ashley Judd’s case against convicted rapist and former BFD producer Harvey Weinstein.
Don’t sleep on this ruling, however, as it reaches much farther than just Hollywood.
In fact, this ruling has big implications for freelancers, entrepreneurs and all others who face sexual harassment while seeking to advance professionally outside of the traditional employee-employer arena, at least in the Golden State.
Traditionally, you could sue for workplace sexual harassment only if you were in an employee-employer relationship or seeking to get into one. That meant freelancers and other professionals had little recourse at law if they faced sexual harassment while pursuing their jobs. That’s bullsh*t. Many Emmy-nominated actors, including Judd, know it.
If you recall, when the #MeToo movement popped off in 2017, Judd was one of the first women to speak out against Weinstein, revealing how the producer invited her to his Beverly Hills hotel room for a “meeting” some 20 years ago, only to insist upon sex and, upon rejection, to negotiate some quid pro quo nonsense for a role in one of his movies. Once Judd made her hard pass known, Weinstein ruined her good name and her career by blacklisting her in Hollywood.
In 2018, emboldened and badass as ever, Judd sued Weinstein for defamation and sexual harassment under California Civil Code § 51.9. This state law allowed for people to sue for sexual harassment if they had a certain type of relationship with the harasshole. Because the actor-producer relationship wasn’t on that list back in 2018 (although it is now), the trial court threw out Judd’s sexual harassment claim.
Fortunately, the Court of Appeals flexed. Basically, it ruled that Judd’s professional relationship with Weinstein was good enough to meet the spirit of § 51.9. Writing the opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel, Judge Mary H. Murguia said:
“heir relationship consisted of an inherent power imbalance wherein Weinstein was uniquely situated to exercise coercion or leverage over Judd by virtue of his professional position and influence as a top producer in Hollywood.”
BOOM! Judd now has the right to sue Weinstein under California state sexual harassment laws.
Love to see it.
Like many entrepreneurial baddies, Judd wasn’t an employee of her harasshole. Rather, she was a freelancer, navigating the professional game on screen. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be protected by the same laws that extend to those who are employees of companies. Without such protections, freelancers would be left vulnerable to this type of tit-for-tat “casting couch” harassment without recourse, even though we all agree that behavior has been unlawful since at least 1986, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that workplace sexual harassment violates the law.
Why did it take 34 years for courts to finally get on board by extending the law to freelancers like Judd? Because the law always shadows the science.
Sociologists and researchers have known for decades that workplace sexual harassment isn’t about what goes on within the four walls of one’s office. It’s about the nature of the relationship between the parties, and the power plays made against those who are vulnerable—often women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ people. It may have taken the law three decades to get it right, but we’re glad it finally did.
Of course, Weinstein isn’t. He already took a much-deserved L in court this year and won’t like taking another by losing this ruling.
We can expect the convicted rapist to ask the Ninth Circuit to reconsider its ruling and/or for the entire court to review the ruling (aka “en banc”). He may even march the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, although I can’t see Weinstein walking away with a win, whether or not RBG is present.
Weinstein won’t be alone in challenging this ruling, however. Many high-profile harassholes will loathe this decision because it means they may be held accountable for preying on those over whom they exploited power.
Regardless, that’s a “them” issue. Being a strong person who refuses to tolerate sexual harassment is a “you” issue, and with the court’s ruling today in Judd’s case, you now have more firepower in your arsenal.
Cheers to that!
Images: Tinseltown / Shutterstock.com
There are certain things that just feel like they should be over by now. This work day, my friend’s toxic relationship, and most of all, Kesha’s never-ending court battles with Dr. Luke. I thought we all established years ago that Dr. Luke is trash (allegedly), and Kesha is a badass woman who should be protected at all costs, no? Well, apparently I missed something, because these two are still hashing things out in court, and today, Dr. Luke won a major victory in one of his defamation claims against Kesha.
Dr. Luke and Kesha are currently going to trial in the New York Supreme Court for the defamation lawsuit that Dr. Luke filed all the way back in 2014, which is just insane. WTF is our legal system that this sh*t has been in the works for longer than it takes to finish college AND get a masters degree? I don’t know all the details of why it’s taken so long for this to get to trial, but regardless, I just feel like this isn’t how things should work. But whatever, I’m not here to fix our justice system.
In the defamation case, there are two main allegations that are being discussed. First, Kesha has accused Dr. Luke of sexually assaulting her, a claim which he says she fabricated to get out of her recording contract with him. As twisted as that whole thing is, that’s not really what we’re talking about today. The second defamation claim stems from a text that Kesha sent to Lady Gaga, in which she said that Dr. Luke also sexually assaulted Katy Perry. That’s what we’re talking about today, and it’s also twisted.
Basically, Dr. Luke says that nothing ever happened with him and Katy Perry, and Katy has actually denied it too. In a 2018 deposition, Katy said that she’d never had any sexual contact with Dr. Luke, consensual or otherwise. Now, a year and a half after that deposition, the judge in the case has ruled that Kesha’s text message to Lady Gaga was defamatory toward Dr. Luke, citing Perry’s denial and the fact that “there is no evidence to support” the claim.
The main point of the ruling hinged on the question of whether or not Dr. Luke is a “public figure.” Stick with me while I get all Elle Woods for a minute—I promise I’ll make it make sense. In defamation proceedings, the distinction of public vs. private figure makes a huge difference when it comes to the burden of proof. A public figure has to prove that the defendant acted with actual malice in order to claim defamation; a private figure only has to prove they acted negligently. Without getting too deep here, the difference is that it’s harder for a public figure to sue somebody for defamation.
In this case, Kesha’s team argued that Dr. Luke’s career in the music industry made him a public figure, but the judge ruled that he isn’t widely known (burn), and that prior to this case, “he never injected himself into the public debate about sexual assault or abuse of artists in the entertainment industry.” TL; DR: he’s a private figure.
So now that I’ve just quoted more legal jargon than an episode of SVU, what does this actually mean? Essentially, the bar for Dr. Luke to convince the court that Kesha defamed him just got a lot lower. Now, he doesn’t have to prove that her allegations were untrue, or that she was trying to ruin his life or knew her claims were false when she made them, just that she didn’t really have all the details of what she was talking about. Kesha’s team plans on appealing, so I hope she fares better in the appeals process.
The kind of scary part is that most of us think defamation only applies to like, claims journalists publish in the media, and not a private text between two people. Unfortunately, that is… apparently not true?? As the judge wrote, “Publication of a false statement to even one person, here Lady Gaga, is sufficient to impose liability.” Oh, ok. Excuse me while I leave every single group chat I’ve ever been in after deleting all my chat history.
As if it wasn’t a rough day in court for Kesha already, the judge also ruled that she breached her recording contract, and has to pay Dr. Luke $374,000 of interest on royalty payments that are overdue. Oof. Let’s all go stream Kesha’s new album, because she’s going to need the coins if this keeps going this direction.
Speaking of her new album, it seems like the silver lining of this situation is that Kesha is obviously in a better place than she was when this whole mess with Dr. Luke started. She’s able to put out music and tour again, which is a good thing, regardless of how the battle in court plays out. Whatever happens, I hope it’s over soon, because six years is way too long to think about anything, especially something as unpleasant as this.
Images: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock
It’s a new year, but to the surprise of absolutely no one, influencers are still on their bullsh*t. 2019 was full of influencer scandals ranging from stolen handbags to shilling actual poison, and based on today’s story, 2020 won’t be any different. This week, a Canadian influencer was ordered to pay her ex $145,000 for spreading false rumors that he had STDs, which like, oof. The decision was a landmark case in the laws surrounding defamation in British Columbia, and also a landmark case in proving that your ex might not be that bad after all.
At the center of this case, we have Noelle Halcrow, a Vancouver influencer with an astounding 17,000 followers on Instagram. In the age of mega-influencers, that’s not a lot, but whatever, it’s still more followers than I have. Sadly, her page is private (waiting to see if my follow request is accepted), but all of the reports about the case call her a “style blogger and influencer”, so I guess at one point she like, posted her outfits on Instagram. One time, I influenced my friends to get Taco Bell when we were drunk, so truly anyone can be an influencer.
According to court documents, Noelle Halcrow “began an on-again, off-again relationship with a business consultant named Brandon Rook in 2015,” but he broke things off for good in 2016. The fact that this was an “on-again, off-again” relationship from the start is definitely a bad sign, but sadly, the court documents don’t give a detailed summary of the entire relationship. It’s really rude of them not to paint a full picture of the red flags in this situation, but either way, the relationship didn’t last.
According to a statement from Rook’s lawyer, after the breakup, Noelle “went on and published time and time again, over many days—actually a year, or maybe more than that—various versions of the same statement that the guy was a dog, basically.” Okay, so Noelle was maybeee a little obsessed with this dude. Given the timeline from the court documents, they weren’t together for more than a year (and they were on/off during that time), so she kept posting sh*t about this dude for longer than the relationship even lasted. Yikes.
Just to get a little taste, here’s the text of an Instagram post from Halcrow that was shown in court: “Known cheater, proud of it! STDs and spread them…” Cute! There were over 100 messages like this shared as evidence, and not just from her own account. According to the court documents, Halcrow made multiple Instagram accounts for the rumors, as well as websites such as “cheatersandbastards.org” and “stdregistry.org”. (Before you go checking that second domain, it’s not a site that actually exists.) That’s commitment. In a classic move, Halcrow tried to pretend she wasn’t the one who posted all of these messages, but that her friends did it. Suuuure. A “friend” whose name is Shmoelle Shmalcrow? Sadly for her, the posts were all traced back to Noelle’s IP address, because she was not exactly Mr. Robot.
And even worse, after initially deleting some of the messages, Halcrow TEXTED ROOK threatening to post them again. This text is truly deranged: “I told you second I posted pics. This time you need to search for them and figure how many people I tag. Stupidly I took down but easy get back and I own this account names. And only thing you can get deleted on Instagram is porn. My account people say bad things I own it so I can take down two seconds and alerts my phone.” Okay, this woman needs to get a f*cking grip (on her sanity, and the English language). Not only is she unhinged, but she’s also wrong. You can get plenty of stuff taken down off Instagram as long as it gets reported, as evidenced by the time I made a joke about how people who drink extra-strength Five Hour Energy should just grow up and do cocaine, and Instagram removed it for “promoting drug use”.
In the judge’s decision against Halcrow, he called her smear campaign against Rook “relentless” and “out of spite,” which sounds like how my stomach reacts after I eat too much Chipotle. Sorry, TMI. The judgment for $154,000 is one of the largest defamation awards in the history of British Columbia, and legal experts say it sends an important message in the age of people saying whatever tf they want on social media. Media consultant Katie Dunsworth-Reiach said that even when messages are deleted, “Google is a powerful tool, and it does live on and it’s very expensive to clean up.” Basically, don’t spread false rumors that your ex has STDs, in Canada at least, because that sh*t could come back to haunt you. It might feel better in the moment, but the $154K judgment against you sure won’t.
Images: mooshny / Shutterstock.com