If you’re a pop music fan, you’ve likely heard of the ongoing dispute between “Tik Tok” singer Kesha (formerly known as “Ke$ha”) and Dr. Luke, the man who produced Kesha’s hit albums and a Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer for such world-famous artists as Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson. Kesha sued Dr. Luke in New York state court in 2014 for, among other things, employment-based sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Kesha alleged that Dr. Luke sexually assaulted her and forced her to take drugs, and threatened to destroy her career if she ever told anyone of his actions. She also alleged that he repeatedly criticized her physical attributes and artistic talents. In her lawsuit, she named Dr. Luke’s publishing company, with whom she had a publishing contract, as well as Sony Music, with whom she had a recording contract, arguing that executives at the companies were aware of the conduct.
Despite Popular Support, Kesha’s Claims Were Dismissed
Kesha’s lawsuit attracted attention from media and other music stars, including Taylor Swift, who championed Kesha for taking a bold step against discrimination and abuse. Despite the support for her cause, a New York state judge dismissed Kesha’s lawsuit against Dr. Luke and the other defendants just last month. While we take no position on the veracity of the horrific allegations leveled against Dr. Luke, there are lessons to be taken from the dismissal of her lawsuit which are useful for other plaintiffs in bringing sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit.
Where Kesha’s Complaint Came Up Short
State court Judge Shirley Kornreich presented a number of legal determinations for why Kesha’s allegations failed to state a claim such that the case could go to trial. Those determinations can be summarized as follows:
- Lack of Specific Allegations. Kesha’s complaint alleged that Dr. Luke had abused her over the course of a decade, but the judge found that Kesha only alleged two specific situations: 1) forcing her to take an illicit drug prior to a flight in 2005, and then forcing himself on her during the flight, and 2) giving her a drug in 2008 which she believed to be a “date rape” drug, after which she woke up with no memory, believing herself to have been raped. The judge noted that both alleged events, even if they did occur, would have occurred prior to Kesha’s entering into a business relationship with either the publishing company or Sony Music. As such, the judge dismissed the claims as lacking sufficient evidence warranting a trial.
- Failure to Allege Gender Bias. The court also found that, with regard to at least the gender discrimination claims, that Kesha failed to allege that the conduct, while wrongful, was supported by an animus towards women.
- Jurisdictional Issues. Kesha brought her claim in New York state alleging violations of New York City’s human rights laws, although her claims were based on conduct allegedly occurring in California. The judge found that the New York state court did not have jurisdiction to apply New York City law to conduct allegedly occurring outside of the city.
- Statute of Limitations Problems. Because the alleged conduct occurred in 2005 and 2008, the court found that the complaint, which was filed in 2014, was not timely in meeting New York’s applicable five-year statute of limitations.
Again, it is not clear whether Kesha’s allegations against Dr. Luke are true or not, but the dismissal of her case provides some important lessons to people suffering sexual harassment and/or gender discrimination in the workplace. It is important to document the wrongful behavior whenever possible, and contact an attorney as soon as possible who can work with you to bring a detailed claim in the proper jurisdiction within the applicable statute of limitations.
For assistance in investigating and litigating your sexual harassment and/or discrimination claim, contact the Orange County Employee Rights attorneys at Sessions Kimball today.