MTV Settles Lawsuit With 'Real World' Cast Member Who Alleged Rape (Exclusive)
Tonya Cooley had alleged that she was sent home after she complained of being sexually abused by other castmembers. In its response, Viacom said she was "rowdy, combative (and) flirtatious" on the "The Ruins."
MTV has settled a lawsuit brought by Tonya Cooley, who claimed she was raped during the Thailand season of The Real World/Road World Challenge: The Ruins and accused the network and Bunim/Murray Productions of violating employment laws by encouraging the behavior and retaliating against her.
In her complaint filed a year ago, Cooley said she had become the victim of repeated sexual abuse, including being raped with a toothbrush by two other contestants while she was passed out.
Cooley charged producers with supplying contestants with unlimited alcoholic beverages and further encouraging scandalous behavior by providing perks such as being named team leaders and getting more airtime. She says she brought her concerns to producers, who purportedly told her to "just deal with it" and eventually decided to send her home.
In January, MTV parent Viacom Media Networks answered her complaint by disputing that any employment relationship existed between it and Cooley and objecting that a Los Angeles Superior Court had jurisdiction over claims made by a non-California resident over things that happened outside of the state.
Viacom also said that Cooley had failed to exercise care herself in the injuries she suffered and told a judge that it had an "open-door policy with complaint procedures."
Cooley failed to take advantage of this, said the defendant, which goes so far as to attribute some blame for what allegedly happened to the ex-reality star.
According to Viacom's papers, "In addition to failing to avail herself of VMN's policies and complaint procedures, Plaintiff failed to avoid the injuries of which she complains. For example, while she was a contestant on The Ruins, Plaintiff was frequently intoxicated (to an extent far greater than other contestants), rowdy, combative, flirtatious and on multiple occasions intentionally exposed her bare breasts and genitalia to other contestants."
To counter charges that Viacom had encouraged sexual abuse on a reality show, it brought forth affirmative defenses including Cooley's assumption of risk, consent, a waiver, a release and the argument that there were legitimate business reasons for sending her home -- that she was removed from the show because "she violently struck another contestant."
In her lawsuit, Cooley said that her slap of another participant "was far less offensive than the sexual battery" she endured from contestants who weren't likewise sent home. She believed it to be a retaliatory move.
But there won't be a trial to determine who was right and who was wrong. The parties have informed the judge that the dispute has been resolved and have asked for a stay for time to effectuate the resolution.
Details of the settlement have not been made public. Viacom has declined comment.
E-mail: email@example.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner
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