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The Game must pay $7.1 million in damages to a reality dating show contestant after a jury in 2016 found him liable for sexual battery in connection with an off-camera date and an Illinois federal appeals court on Thursday found he doesn’t deserve a new trial.
The rapper, whose legal name is Jayceon Taylor, starred on VH1’s Bachelor-esque series She’s Got Game. While filming in Chicago in 2015, Taylor took Priscilla Rainey on a date to a sports bar. It wasn’t filmed, and she says he sexually assaulted her by repeatedly lifting her skirt and groping her while others in the bar watched.
Rainey confronted him about it on camera (on a tour bus in front of other contestants) and in August 2015 sued for sexual battery.
“Taylor did not take the litigation seriously,” writes Circuit Judge TK Sykes, summarizing the case background. “He evaded process, trolled Rainey on social media, dodged a settlement conference, and did not bother to show up at trial. His attorney asked for a continuance, but the judge denied that request, dismissing Taylor’s proffered excuse as an elaborate ruse.”
Ultimately, a jury in November 2016 awarded Rainey $1.13 million in compensatory damages and another $6 million in punitive damages. Taylor moved for a new trial, challenging, among other things, the denial of a continuance; that the judge told the jury it could assume Taylor’s absence meant his testimony would have been unfavorable to him; and that the judge allowed the jury to see video of the tour bus confrontation. He alternatively asked the judge to reconsider the damages award. U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman denied the motions and Taylor appealed. (He also unsuccessfully sued Viacom, alleging the network failed to adequately background check Rainey before casting her.)
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday affirmed the district court’s rulings. It found that Feinerman was justified in his skepticism of Taylor’s reason for missing trial (a purported emergency dental procedure).
“The judge carefully considered the entire record and made a reasonable judgment that Taylor was unjustifiably absent,” writes Sykes, also backing the decision on the missing witness instruction. “Taylor was in complete control of his own appearance at trial. His choice to stay away for the duration of the trial carried consequences, one of which was the likelihood that the judge would give a missing-witness instruction. The judge was on solid ground in giving this instruction.”
The panel also found the tour bus video was not only relevant to Rainey’s testimony that Taylor assaulted her, but also as impeachment evidence because Taylor denied in his deposition that she ever confronted him.
Finally, the 7th Circuit found the damages awarded to Rainey to be reasonable and affirmed Feinerman’s decision to let the jury’s award stand.
“The jury’s $1.13 million award represents a fair and reasonable compensation for this intentional tort; it also finds adequate support in the facts established at trial,” writes Sykes. “[T]he truly egregious nature of Taylor’s conduct supports the size of this punitive award even with the significant compensatory award. The sheer maliciousness of the tort is extreme. And the public humiliation of this assault, combined with Taylor’s post-assault insults and threats, warrant a substantial punitive award.”
An attorney for Taylor has not yet responded to a request for comment on the decision, a copy of which is posted below.
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