9:06am PT by Ashley Cullins
Ex-APA Employee's Suit Alleging a "Sexually Abusive Environment" Moved to Arbitration
APA's legal battle with an ex-employee who alleges sexual harassment and retaliation is moving behind closed doors — but that doesn't necessarily mean Jane Doe's identity will remain confidential.
A former APA agent in June sued the company anonymously, claiming its leadership fostered a "sexually abusive environment" and she was retaliated against for not engaging in sexual relationships with execs who propositioned her and for reporting the harassment to HR. CEO Jim Gosnell and two agents were also named as defendants in her complaint.
In July, APA filed a motion to compel arbitration and called the woman's lawsuit "an unabashed extortion attempt."
Following a Wednesday hearing, L.A. Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey granted APA's motion and denied another from Jane Doe that requested she proceed under a pseudonym and pages that reveal her identity be sealed. Mackey found that the evidence attached to the motion to seal was "a cursory and argumentative declaration of counsel" that is not based on personal knowledge of facts and doesn't meet the state's threshold for sealing. (THR will not identify Doe unless she publicly identifies herself.)
With regard to arbitration, Doe argued that the agreement was unconscionable and she hadn't received the full contract before signing it and didn't understand she was agreeing to arbitrate.
Mackey finds "failure to read a contract with reasonable diligence is not a ground to avoid arbitration" and accepting such an agreement can be implied-in-fact "where the employee's continued employment constitutes acceptance." He also finds the agreement extends to APA client Michael Hammond, whom Doe alleges sexually assaulted her. (Read the full decision below.)
Doe's lawyers on Friday sent The Hollywood Reporter statements in response to the decision. "Plain and simple, the court got the ruling completely wrong and his decision and reasoning is directly contrary to prevailing California law and public policy," says Michael Popok. "We successfully raised facts challenging the validity of the agreement to arbitrate, including whether it was fraudulently obtained. As to the Collins Avenue defendants, the court misapplied the law and facts concerning the limited exception that would allow a non-party to an arbitration agreement to compel arbitration."
Popok says Doe's legal team, which also includes Ben Meiselas of Geragos & Geragos, is evaluating whether to appeal the ruling. He says, "The issue of a plaintiff victim being denied her day in court with a jury of her peers is just too important to turn on an incorrect decision of a single trial judge."
Adds Meiselas, “It is always a sad day for justice and for the State of California when a victim of sex assault is compelled to arbitrate the sex assault in secrecy instead of having her day in court. Forced arbitration, and particularly forced arbitration for sex assault victims, is idiotic, offensive, and an affront to our Constitution and what this state purportedly stands for.”