Viacom Faces $5 Million Lawsuit From Woman Embarrassed on 'Real World'
A judge allows a case to go forward after a house guest says she was too drunk to know she was signing a waiver to appear on the show.
The era of reality television arguably kicked off nearly twenty years ago in a New York apartment when seven strangers were picked to live in a house and have their lives taped on a path-breaking show on MTV called The Real World. Last night, the series returned on the network for its 25th edition. During the years, the formula hasn't much changed, but thanks to a decision Wednesday by a federal judge in Washington D.C., producers of this show and perhaps all reality programs, might wish to be more careful when allowing non-cast members to appear in episodes.
Last year, a woman named Golzar Amirmotazedi sued Viacom, MTV and Bunim/Murray Prods for $5 million after being shown in a couple of Real World: Washington, D.C. episodes, plus out-takes on the show's website. During the episodes in question, Amirmotazedi was invited into the Real World household by some male cast members and then thrown out, allegedly because she declined to have sex. Cast members made fun of Amirmotazedi, calling her "crazy," "weird," a "mess" and a "stalker" with emotional problems. Online commentators added she was a "crack whore" and one of the male cast member's "crazy stalker chick."
She sued, claiming invasion of privacy, false light, disclosure of private facts and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.In response, producers pointed to the waiver she signed to enter the house and appear on the program. The waiver states, "I understand that I have no expectation of privacy in [The Real World] house."
However, Amirmotazedi countered that she was given or had consumed 8 to 10 alcoholic beverages and didn't have the mental capacity while drunk to agree to anything in a contract.
Typically, courts haven't given much credence to such arguments in the entertainment world. For example, producers of Girls Gone Wild have escaped liability from women who claimed they were intoxicated.
Amirmotazedi, however, has survived the first hurdle in pushing her claims.
The defendants attempted to get the case kicked to an arbitrator, citing the release form's arbitration provisions, but U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler has denied the motion on summary judgment.
"Under both District of Columbia and California law, ,voluntary intoxication is a type of mental capacity defense that permits an individual to avoid a contract if she was so intoxicated at the time of formation that she could not understand the terms and conditions of the agreement," wrote the judge in the decision.
Judge Kessler hasn't yet made final determination on whether Amirmotazedi was so intoxicated as to not have understood the contract, but she rules this is a "genuine issue of material fact," meaning both sides will prepare more evidence. If Amirmotazedi is able to show she was intoxicated, it appears her waiver will be null and void, and the case will move to a jury, who might be sympathetic to Amirmotazedi's claims of a privacy breach on the part of producers.
According to the decision, the show has a policy of preventing intoxicated individuals from entering into or remaining in The Real World residence. A court will soon determine whether that policy was actually executed.
Viacom and Bunim/Murray have been contacted and we'll add their response if we get anything.