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The creator of Honest Trailers says Defy Media used the #MeToo movement as an excuse to fire him and strip him of his ownership rights in the company without conducting a proper investigation after assault allegations were leveled against him on Twitter, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
In the days leading up to Signore’s Oct. 8 termination — and the day after The New York Times published its Harvey Weinstein exposé and effectively launched the #MeToo movement — one woman alleged on Twitter that Signore tried to sexually assault her on multiple occasions, threatened to fire her boyfriend if she told anyone and offered her a job at Screen Junkies, the YouTube channel behind Honest Trailers, in exchange for sexual favors.
According to the complaint, Signore told Defy he had proof the allegations were false and their relationship was consensual, but they fired him before he was able to fully tell his side of the story. Signore also says the company posted YouTube videos discussing the allegations that have made it impossible for him to find work.
“Defy Media, LLC had long partaken in a pattern of objectifying and demoralizing people, especially women, for financial gain or personal entertainment,” states the complaint. “Defy Media, LLC was known for its inability or unwillingness to investigate complaints. When the cries of #MeToo inevitably arrived at Defy’s door, the very first action the company took was to take advantage of the moment in order to justify unlawfully denying an LLC member of his vested interests.”
Signore also claims Defy’s high-level management and shareholders were engaged in “sexual and otherwise personal” relationships with employees, interns and fans — and claims the leadership “fostered a company culture of profanity and obscenity.”
“Sexual harassment was prevalent and went virtually unchecked,” writes attorney Yana Henriks in the complaint. (Read it here.)
Defy Media is denying the claims.
“These claims are not grounded in facts and will be found to be baseless,” a Defy representative told The Hollywood Reporter.
Regarding the woman’s claims, Signore says the two began a flirtatious and sexual text relationship, which included explicit messages and naked photos, after meeting in Chicago. She then flew to Los Angeles to visit him and, according to the complaint, both of them “repeatedly affirmed the plan to engage in sexual activity with each other.”
Signore says they had consensual sex on Sept. 4, 2015, and later that day she went on a date with his friend, another Defy employee, with whom she also had sex.
After his termination, Signore demanded a copy of his personnel file and alleges there is no documentation relating to an investigation and no complaints from her or anyone else. (Another woman, a former colleague, also accused him of sexual harassment on Twitter in the days leading up to his firing.)
Signore is suing Defy for breach of contract, negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional interference with prospective economic relations, among other claims. He also is considering pursuing legal action against the woman for defamation.
“The past year has been extremely difficult after being falsely accused of sexual assault. As a result, I had my ownership in the company taken away, lost my family and my reputation,” Signore said Wednesday in a statement. “I have never threatened, abused, assaulted or forced myself on anyone. I did however engage in infidelities that I regret tremendously.”
Henriks also issued a statement Wednesday, describing Defy’s behavior as reckless: “No person’s ownership interest should be taken away based on social media postings and anyone who does that should be responsible in a court of law.”
Honest Trailers, a YouTube series that skewers popular films, made Signore a household name in the online entertainment community. By the time he exited the series, it had garnered more than 1 billion views and he and his team had received Primetime Emmy Award nominations in 2016 and 2017 in the outstanding short-form variety series category.
Defy Media, which was established with the 2013 merger of Break Media and Alloy Digital and counts Lionsgate and Viacom as investors, laid off around 20 employees in March as part of the closing of its programmatic ad business. Following the shuttering of the business, the company faced complaints from several of its publishers, which claimed it owed them money for ads that ran on the network.
The company has also been selling off some of its brands. Screen Junkies sold to Fandom in early July, a move that a Defy spokeswoman characterized as “the right pathway” for the brand, given the need for “increased focus and additional investment.” Later that month, Defy also sold gaming brand The Escapist to Enthusiast Gaming. The company continues to own and operate the Smosh and Clevver brands.
Aug. 22, 6:15 p.m. Updated with statement from Defy Media.
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