Talent Agent Responds to Sexual Harassment Allegation with Counterclaims of Defamation, Blackmail

By Ian Muttoo (originally posted to Flickr as Seoul) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsA South Korean actress’ sexual harassment lawsuit against her talent agency’s CEO led to an unusual court battle. The defendant accused the actress of defamation and filed counterclaims accusing her of using threats of legal action as blackmail. Many of the legal procedures involved in the case differ considerably from those in New York City, but the use of counterclaims like slander or libel—collectively known as defamation—occurs here as well. A person claiming sexual harassment by an employer must carefully prepare and present their claims in order to avoid giving a defendant any basis for a counterclaim. In the actress’ case, a court ruled in her favor on the counterclaims, and she appears to have reached a settlement with the defendant.

The actress, who uses the stage name Clara, filed suit against her talent agency in late 2014. She asked the court to release her from her contract with the agency on the grounds that the agency’s CEO had sexually harassed her. She alleged that he would send her unwanted text messages making inappropriate comments and that he fired a co-worker based on his mistaken impression that she and the co-worker were dating.

The agency initially responded by calling the allegations “slanderous.” The actress had reportedly asked the agency to release her from the contract in September 2014, only three months after signing, but the agency refused. It released text message exchanges between the actress and the CEO in January 2015, claiming that they contradicted the claims in her lawsuit. The actress responded that the messages had been altered and were incomplete. She released audio recordings in March that allegedly showed the CEO threatening her.

In May, prosecutors issued a summons to the actress and her father, based on allegations that she had attempted to blackmail the CEO. The CEO had already filed a civil suit against them based on the same allegations. Both the actress and her father were cleared of any wrongdoing in July in both the civil and criminal blackmail cases. Prosecutors then charged the CEO with alleged blackmail, reportedly based in part on the audio recordings. By August, the parties had agreed to mediation. The actress dismissed her lawsuit in September.

A defendant in a New York sexual harassment lawsuit may bring counterclaims against the plaintiff if they can show that the claims are related to the plaintiff’s allegations. Defamation requires proof of a false statement made to a third party that would tend to damage the claimant’s reputation, about which the defendant was at least negligent in investigating its truth, and which actually caused measurable damage. See Celle v. Filipino Reporter Enterprises, Inc., 209 F.3d 163 (2d Cir. 2000).

Typically, claims made in the course of a lawsuit are not considered defamatory, but a court may decide otherwise in certain situations. A federal judge in New York, for example, allowed a counterclaim for defamation to proceed against a plaintiff in a sexual harassment suit, noting that the defendants had a “good faith” belief that the plaintiff “had disseminated her complaint outside the judicial process.” Marchuk v. Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP, No. 1:13-cv-01669, op. and order at 11 (S.D.N.Y., Jan. 28, 2015).

The sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates help New York City employees and job seekers assert claims for unlawful employment practices under city, state, and federal employment laws. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced employee rights advocate, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Retaliation Lawsuit Brought by Worker Who Reported Concerns of Sexual Harassment at Wall Street Financial Firm, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 9, 2015

Jury Awards $18 Million to Plaintiff in Sexual Harassment Suit Against New York Financial Firm and CEO, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 22, 2015

Defendant in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Claims Defamation Against Plaintiff, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 7, 2014

Photo credit: By Ian Muttoo (originally posted to Flickr as Seoul) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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