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Judge: Man Can't Sue 'Shitty Media Men' Creator For Emotional Harm
March 5th, 2019
In the fall of 2017, Moira Donegan started the Shitty Media Men spreadsheet, which compiled a range of rumors and allegations of sexual misconduct against men in the media industry. "The anonymous, crowdsourced document was a first attempt at solving what has seemed like an intractable problem: how women can protect ourselves from sexual harassment and assault," Donegan wrote in a piece last year for The Cut, explaining her motivations for starting the list. Prior to that piece, the creator of the list was not known.
After the article was published, Donegan was sued by writer Stephen Elliott, who was cited on the list for "rape accusations, sexual harassment, coercion" and more, and who asked for $1.5M in damages arguing that the "inflammatory false statements" included on the spreadsheet were damaging to his "reputation and good name." Elliott and his attorneys are also seeking a large amount of information about anyone who might have contributed to this list.
Jezebel now reports that a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled on Friday that Elliott can't sue Donegan for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress. Elliott's attorneys have one more chance to re-plead the defamation claim, by adding allegations to the complaint in an attempt to show actual malice on the part of Donegan.
In addition, Judge Lashann Dearcy Hall was not moved by arguments that Donegan's tweets undermined her other public statements—she maintains that it was meant to be a private, crowd-sourced document—about the list.
In Elliott's original complaint from October, his attorneys wrote that Donegan "made public statements on social media stating 'The problem is men,' 'I really hate men,' 'I like the witch hunt,' and re-publishing statements assuming the guilt of all men accused on The List." Elliott’s attorney Nicholas Lewis argued that those tweets undermined what she wrote for The Cut. From Jezebel's report:
“Your Honor, respectfully, with regard to the Defendant’s article,” he told the judge, “the statements regarding ‘I hate men’ and ‘I’m enjoying the witch-hunt’ are relevant for her, I guess — belie the claims in the article that this was done—”
Judge Hall cut in. “Let’s assume she hates men,” she said. “Just for the record, let’s assume she hates them. I don’t see how you can go from her generalized hatred of men to a reasonable inference of malice with regard to your client, which is what you’d have to establish.”
Elliott and his lawyers have until March 8th to decide whether to amend their original complaint.
"Being accused of sexual misconduct is extremely alienating," Elliott, the founder and former Editor-in-Chief of The Rumpus, who has written several books and directed two films, wrote in an essay last year. "#MeToo was an expression of solidarity but there is no solidarity for the accused."
Donegan's attorney, Roberta Kaplan, said in a statement to Gothamist: "After a careful and comprehensive review of the complaint, the parties’ submissions, and the applicable case law, the Court ruled that Stephen Elliot could not pursue any claim for negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress against our client Moira Donnegan in connection with the 'shitty media men' list. Those claims are now out of the case for good... We are pleased with the Court’s rulings, and are confident that this case will soon be over once and for all since there is no version of the facts that could possibly state a viable claim of defamation against Ms. Donnegan here.”
Kaplan also told Jezebel that Donegan "is far too sophisticated a thinker to go around saying that she or anyone else actually 'hates men.' But what the Judge said on Friday is that even if it were true that Ms. Donegan hated men in general, that still would not be enough since Mr. Elliott has not (and cannot allege) that she hated Mr. Elliott in particular and that she therefore had a reason to lie about him."
Read this at Gothamist.