APA Hits Back at Former Employee Who Alleged Sexual Harassment, Accusing Her of Extortion

Courtesy of APA
    

The talent agency wants to force an anonymous plaintiff into arbitration.

Lawyers for Agency for the Performing Arts (APA) didn't pull any punches in their response to a sexual harassment lawsuit filed Wednesday (July 17), accusing the plaintiff of extortion, intimidation and fabricating evidence.

“As part of her continuing unabashed attempt to extort and shake down [APA], Jane Doe, has anonymously filed a complaint containing false and salacious allegations in direct contravention of the parties’ mutual agreement to arbitrate,” the agency's motion reads. Jane Doe’s “filing of the complaint is merely her latest attempt to obtain a windfall through fabricated evidence, ever-changing facts, and a revolving door of lawyers.”

Last month attorney Ben Meisalas of Geragos & Geragos and Michael Popok of Zumpano Patricios & Popok filed a lengthy lawsuit on behalf of their client, an anonymous ex-APA employee who says she was sexually harassed, assaulted and retaliated against for attempting to come forward with allegations against top executives and clients.

"Plaintiff was incessantly subjected to sexual advances, crude and obscene comments, and retaliation, not at the hands of underlings at APA, but by its most senior apex management," Meisalas wrote in the complaint. "The men in power at APA were allowed to prey upon usually much younger female subordinates, aided and abetted by APA's Director of Human Resources and General Counsel, both females."

The woman says the harassment began almost immediately after her hiring in 2015 and claims she was terminated in August 2018 in retaliation for not engaging in sexual acts with executives who propositioned her and for reporting the harassment to HR.

She is suing APA, its CEO Jim Gosnell, execs Paul Santana and Josh Humiston and client Michael Hammond.

Lawyers for the agency have now filed a motion to move the former employee’s complaint to arbitration. According to the motion to compel, lawyers for APA say that Jane Doe signed an arbitration agreement when she accepted employment at APA in 2015. A copy of Jane Doe’s employment agreement was submitted and reads that “any and all disputes, claims or controversies of any kind or nature” will be resolved by binding arbitration.

In the motion, Adam Levin, attorney for APA, alleges that Jane Doe (whose identity the agency believes it has determined) tried to blackmail the agency with false accusations in October 2017 for a pay raise before she was eventually fired in August 2018. Jane Doe then filed the harassment lawsuit last month that included copies of sexually explicit emails and texts from APA executives named as defendants.

APA’s attorneys allege that the provided emails and text messages were fabricated by the former employee and allege that she has been accused of faking texts as evidence in the past.

“In 2011, judgement was entered against her on claims for intentional misrepresentation and civil conspiracy with her mother, including allegations that [Jane Doe] produced fabricated text messages in a legal proceeding,” the motion reads. “The Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, found that [Jane Doe]’s actions were fraudulent and undertaken with actual malice, and entered a $500,000 judgement that included punitive damages against her.”

The motion additionally claims that APA already tried to move the lawsuit to arbitration, but Jane Doe refused to do so.

Jane Doe's lawyer say use of binding arbitration in this case is not appropriate and added that even if a judge grants the agency’s motion to move to arbitration, Popok says his client will still get her day in court.

“From our position, the attempt to drag this case behind the closed door of a private arbitration rather than have Jane Doe’s rights fully vindicated in a courtroom is wrong for a number of reasons,” Popok tells Billboard. “The language that they chose is language that we believe runs afoul of California law on the enforceability of arbitration provisions, because it shifts a tremendous burden, financial and otherwise, onto the ex-employee.”

Popok attests California’s public policy sides with his client who he says essentially had to sign the arbitration agreement when she was offered a position at the agency.

“They are not going to be successful in taking every ounce of this case behind closed doors because there are claims that are not subject to arbitration,” says Popok. “For example, all of the claims against (Michael Hammond) are going to stay in the courtroom. He is not subject to any arbitration. There is not going to be an arbitration provision for his assault and we are going to be litigating that.”

In the complaint filed on behalf of Jane Doe, the former employee details a meeting she took with Hammond, COO of Collins Avenue Productions, where he allegedly sexually assaulted her at his office. According to the complaint, when Jane Doe reported it to APA, she says she was "threatened by the company's senior management and APA's Office of the General Counsel to not report it to law enforcement or she would be terminated."

“There are also claims that we are going to be adding to the case that have nothing to do with the arbitration provision and will remain in the courtroom,” adds Popok, who alleges that APA’s stance that their client is a liar should be considered defamation. “Since the filing of the lawsuit, APA’s conduct has given rise to additional new claims that my client is going to pursue in the courthouse.”

Levin describes Jane Doe's lawsuit as a "shakedown" and writes that "she demanded that APA pay her tens of millions of dollars." Levin said APA hired a retired judge and an independent forensics analyst to examine the emails and texts and concluded that "two emails were not authentic and that they were created or manipulated to reflect authorship by individuals who credibly denied creating them." The authenticity of the text messages was not determined and the former employee did not participate in the investigation.


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