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Can defamation lawsuits help settle MeToo disputes?

On Behalf of | Jan 13, 2020 | Sexual Harassment

Some harassment victims have problems getting their case to trial. For instance, one of the first women to go after Harvey Weinstein was told her claims against him did not fall within California’s statute of limitations. After stating her allegations against him, a producer at Miramax reportedly said the woman was “a nightmare to work with.” As a result, she sued the producer for defamation.

In some instances, victims of sexual harassment are using defamation suits to get their case in front of a judge. Some believe doing so could give them a chance to persuade the court about the events that took place. Recently, women have filed defamation lawsuits against their alleged perpetrators for making disparaging comments about their character or calling them liars.

Victims worry how perpetrators could manipulate allegations

While this approach has allowed victims to make their case after years of silence, defamation lawsuits can still be hard to win in the United States. That’s because the Supreme Court has set particularly high standards that protect freedom of the press.

Courts must also find that the statements made in question are purely based on fact and not opinion. For instance, a woman named Paula Jones sued President Bill Clinton in 1994 after she claimed he exposed himself in front of her while he was governor of Arkansas. As part of the suit filed against the former president, Ms. Jones accused Clinton and his associates of defaming her by allegedly calling her a liar. A judge ended up dismissing Ms. Jones’ claim, saying Mr. Clinton only denied her allegations and questioned her motives.

Others have found success

Even though Ms. Jones’ case didn’t play out in their favor, those who were assaulted by Bill Cosby found success in settling their claim through a defamation suit. In the case, several women filed a lawsuit against Mr. Cosby after one of his representatives accused them of lying about their assault claims. While the victim’s settlements didn’t get disclosed, they said they were satisfied with the outcome.

Could defamation suits become the new norm?

Some legal professionals say they’re curious to see how defamation suits for sexual harassment claims could change the landscape of how these cases get handled, especially those with high-profile figures involved.



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