George Santos and the Proliferation of Defamation Sexual Harassment Suits
Congressman George Santos, an undocumented producer of a Spiderman musical, has hit another scandal in a growing list of fraud scandals that have plagued him since he won a House seat in 2022 to New York’s Third District. Unverified NYU graduate George Santos has now been accused of sexually harassing Derek Myers, a job applicant to his Congressional office.
Derek Myers briefly worked in the Congressman’s office before his job offer was rescinded. Myers sent a letter to the House Committee on Ethics and publicly posted it onto Twitter. Myers accuses Santos of sexual harassment. Myers alleges that on or about January 25, the Congressman was alone with Myers in Santos’ office. Santos, allegedly asked Myers whether he had a profile on Grindr, a popular gay dating app. Then Santos allegedly invited him to karaoke and touched his groin, while reassuring Myers that his husband was out of town. Santos is already the subject of numerous investigations into his business and campaign finances.
Myers himself is the subject of wiretapping charges. Myers was charged last year with wiretapping and publishing courtroom testimony that someone else recorded and sent him. Myers claims that the harassment occurred five days before he secretly recorded Santos. Myers allegedly recorded their conversations as evidence that Myers was told he would work for Santos as a volunteer before his employment papers were processed. Volunteer work may violate House ethnic rules. It is unclear how the Ethnic Committee will proceed.
Defamation Suits in Sexual Harassment Cases
Recent high-profile cases have put defamation in the spotlight. Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Amber Heard, and other high profile defendants, have been sued for defamation in relation to an alleged sexual harassment by one or more claimed victims. Defamation has become a favored claim of both the alleged victims of sexual harassment and those accused.
Defamation is a false statement about another person which damages the person’s reputation. Every state has laws to protect a person from being harmed by false remarks because such remarks can hurt a person’s career or business. However, defamation laws are also balanced against constitutional protections for freedom of speech and press. For instance, lawsuits by public figures, such as high-level government officials, must prove that the defendant had actual malice towards him or her.
Defamation claims can be used by both those accused of sexual harassment and their alleged victims. Alleged abusers can sue their victims and force them to prove their statements are true in civil court or pay damages. Conversely, an alleged victim can sue their harasser for defamation. While a lawsuit by alleged abusers claims that the victim made up the harassment or abuse story, a defamation suit by a victim claims that the abuser is lying when he or she denies the abuse allegation. The sword of defamation can cut both ways for those accused of harassment and those who claim to have been harassed.
Anti-SLAPP Laws Can Curb the Abuse of Defamation Suits
Some states give defendants the ability to ask the court to dismiss lawsuits that infringe upon their First Amendment rights. Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) laws can be used by defendant to strike lawsuits that are being used solely to silence a defendant rather than have actual legal merit. Anti-SLAPP motions can also be used to protect an alleged victim’s right to report alleged harassment or abuse to the police or prosecutor. Jurisdictions that have anti-SLAPP laws also recognize a citizens’ right to petition the government for redress, as citizens have the right to report a crime, regardless of whether the accusation was true or not as long as it was made to a government official.
Do I Need An Attorney For Sexual Harassment?
If you are experiencing sexual harassment or been accused of sexual harassment, especially in the workplace, you should contact a skilled sexual harassment lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney can advise you regarding your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court as needed.