Defamation Continues to Take Center Stage in the #MeToo Narrative

As discussed in my prior article, “Exploring the Role of Defamation in the #MeToo Narrative,” defamation has played a central role throughout the development of the #MeToo movement to advantage both the accused and the accusers. For the accusers, claiming defamation by the harasser has, on occasion, served as a means through which to achieve justice. Similarly, those accused of harassment have used defamation as a legal tool to combat the claims brought against them.

The litigation trend continues: on October 10, 2018, defamation once again took center stage in the movement as author Stephen Elliott filed a $2.5 million defamation lawsuit against Moira Donegan and Jane Does (1-30) in response to a widely publicized and reported on, publicly accessible Google spreadsheet titled “Shitty Media Men.” The spreadsheet contained an anonymously-sourced list of the names of over seventy men in the media industry who had allegedly committed acts of sexual misconduct. Donegan, the list’s creator, in her widely read essay for New York Magazine, stated that the list had the purpose of “solving what has seemed like an intractable problem: how women can protect ourselves from sexual harassment and assault.”

Elliott faced significant blowback as a result of his inclusion in the list. His litigation Complaint states that he experienced social alienation from family and friends, reduced book sales for his latest novel and depression. The allegations against him set forth by the list were, the claim states, both unsubstantiated and defamatory. Specifically, Elliott alleges that he could not have committed the sexual acts alleged on the list because he has widely published about his personal sexual behavioral preferences, which differ from the allegations made in the list.

Others believe that any statements made by Elliott in support of his lawsuit could be defamatory to the very people he is accusing of defamation, presuming that the allegations made in the list were truthful about him. Indeed, one of the lawsuit’s stated intentions is to have the identities of the contributors to the list of “Shitty Media Men” revealed. Such a disclosure could potentially give rise to a backlash in both the personal and professional lives of the women who contributed anonymously to the list. Defamation, thus, has the potential to run both ways between the parties in this lawsuit, which is only the latest in a series of examples demonstrating the inextricability of defamation from the #MeToo movement as a whole.

The case, filed October 10, 2018, is Elliott v. Donegan et al., 18 Civ. 5680 (E.D.N.Y.)

This article is intended only as a general discussion of these issues. It is not considered to be legal advice or relied upon. For more information, please contact RPJ Attorney Ethan Krasnoo, who counsels both companies and individuals on employment (including sexual harassment, discrimination, and contractual matters), entertainment and media, First Amendment, and data privacy matters. Mr. Krasnoo is admitted to practice in New York State, the U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and U.S. Tax Court. Attorney Advertising.