Pop star Kesha Sebert has suffered a setback in her lawsuit that alleges that producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald sexually abused her. A California judge has decided to put this lawsuit on hold.
Last October, the two filed dueling lawsuits against each other. Kesha’s came in California and claimed that Luke drugged and “forced himself” on her, and used his position of power to take control of her career. Luke’s came in New York and claimed that Kesha is attempting to extort him in order to extricate her from contracts.
Although Kesha painted a grim picture of working with Dr. Luke, there was a lot about her lawsuit that went beyond talk of an alleged assault to discuss the contractual relationship between the parties. For example, Kesha said that Dr. Luke had promised to renegotiate her deal, but wouldn’t, and so she was trapped in a one-sided, onerous agreement.
Importantly, Kesha’s deals with Luke’s Kemosabe Records label, housed under Sony, had a forum clause that stipulated disputes would be handled in New York.
“Although plaintiff does not allege any cause of action for breach of contract she certainly does implicate the contracts and indeed asks the court to void them,” writes L.A. Superior Judge Barbara Scheper, further adding that Kesha’s claims for sexual harassment and gender violence are predicated on the relationship between the two.
Kesha’s attorneys attempted to avoid this outcome by arguing that the forum clause shouldn’t be enforced because she didn’t freely enter into the contracts and that New York wasn’t the center of the issues involved in the lawsuit.
But the judge responds that there’s no evidence that the agreements were not the result of an arm’s length negotiation or even that Kesha is a resident of California.
Kesha also tried to avoid this outcome by recently amending her lawsuit to include Sony as a co-defendant. The amended lawsuit says that Sony should be held liable for supporting and ratifying his behavior. Kesha’s attorneys argued the Sony deals are without a New York forum clause, but it doesn’t appear to have done the trick.
Luke’s attorneys are now trumpeting the victory to the New York judge, which will likely mean the dispute continues on the East Coast. Kesha may attempt to bring counterclaims in New York that essentially match what she’s alleging in California, but her lawyers must have felt some strategic advantage to having the case litigated elsewhere.
If the two had contracted with each other more recently rather than a decade ago when Kesha was 18, the result might have been different. Kesha’s attorneys told the California judge that the state laws on sexual harassment and gender violence have been amended to include anti-waiver provisions, meaning that no contract can foreclose a grievance under the statutes, but Scheper responds that the provisions only apply to agreements made after January 1 of this year.