California AB 933 Would Protect Sexual Assault Survivors Against Defamation Lawsuits

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California AB 933 Legislation Would Protect Sexual Assault Survivors Facing Lawsuits

California AB 933 Legislation Would Protect Sexual Assault Survivors Facing Lawsuits

Apr 21, 2023

California legislators voted Thursday to protect sexual assault survivors from retaliatory lawsuits. The legislation, known as California Assembly Bill 933 (AB 933), was sponsored by Equal Rights Advocates and authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry. It passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly with bipartisan support.

As the Associated Press (AP) noted, the bill comes years after a former state lawmaker sued a woman over her sexual misconduct allegations against him.

“Pamela Lopez, a lobbyist who accused a lawmaker of sexual assault in 2017, said a defamation lawsuit used as a retaliation tactic goes beyond trying to disempower survivors,” the AP reported.

“It is also an attempt to take away the power of every person who wants to be part of a conversation with survivors about how we wind up in a culture that perpetuates sexual assault and sexual harassment,” Lopez told the AP.

As Dordulian Law Group discussed in a previous blog, Lopez came forward with allegations that former California Assemblyman Matt Dababneh followed her “into a bathroom, masturbated in front of her, and urged her to touch him.”

The Los Angeles Times confirmed that Lopez’s claim was substantiated through an independent investigation. Dababneh sued Lopez for defamation and also filed a lawsuit against the Assembly arguing that the lower house violated his due process rights by depriving him “of an opportunity to be heard and respond at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner” during the course of the investigation.

Dababneh eventually agreed to drop the lawsuits as part of a negotiated settlement more than a year later (but only in exchange for a list of witnesses).

Sexual assault survivors and anti-sexual violence advocates hope AB 933 will counteract efforts to silence victims.

Under the proposed legislation:

  • A victim’s comments about sexual assault or harassment are protected against defamation lawsuits if the allegation is not knowingly false or made recklessly.
  • A victim who successfully defends themselves in a defamation lawsuit would be able to recover attorney’s fees and damages.

Through passage of AB 933, survivors of sexual assault would be better protected against frivolous counter-suits from predators seeking to silence them.

“Existing law makes certain publications and speech – including complaints of sexual harassment – privileged and protected from civil defamation actions. However, these protections are limited. AB 933 would expand protections for speech made by a survivor, without malice, about their own experience of sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination. This bill would make it harder for perpetrators to retaliate against survivors with legal threats and intimidation, but does not apply to unfounded claims. The bill also helps take the burden off of survivors by providing reasonable attorneys’ fees and damages if they successfully defend themselves against meritless defamation lawsuits,” a post from Equal Rights Advocates said.

The AP confirmed that Lopez was among 150 women who signed a letter in 2017 condemning a culture of “pervasive” misconduct and sexism in California politics. Men “forcefully groped women, made inappropriate comments about their bodies, and undermined their expertise,” the AP said.

The #MeToo movement spurred a slew of resignations by state lawmakers in California and in dozens of other states,” the AP added.

Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry told the AP it was essential for lawmakers to try to protect people from sexual misconduct in the first place.

It is just as imperative that we protect them from revenge lawsuits,” the Democrat from Colusa County said.

The bill still needs to pass in the Senate and then be signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Similar legislation has been introduced in states such as Illinois and New York.

“In Illinois, a state lawmaker introduced a bill this year in an attempt to keep people accused of sexual assault or harassment from retaliating against accusers through litigation, but the legislation hasn’t received a hearing. New York also strengthened protections in recent years against lawsuits used to retaliate against sexual assault survivors,” the AP said.

Gray areas within state law on sexual misconduct allegations leave survivors susceptible to retaliation, Beth Mora, representative of the California Employment Lawyers Association, said at a Judiciary Committee hearing in March.

“Although the court ultimately upheld Ms. Lopez’s speech as privileged, she had to endure years of litigation, and many survivors are simply unable to take on that cost and emotional toll,” Mora said, referencing Dababneh’s defamation lawsuit against the lobbyist.

Equal Rights Advocates and CA Employment Lawyers Association sponsored the AB 933 measure as part of their 2023 Stronger California Agenda.

On the organization’s website, Equal Rights Advocates noted that a forthcoming AB 933 Action Campaign will provide supporters of the bill with the ability to send a pre-drafted email to lawmakers encouraging full passage of the legislation.

California AB 2777 Opens 3-Year Window for Survivors to File Lawsuits

Last year, California AB 2777 was signed into law by Governor Newsom. Known as the ‘Sexual Abuse Cover Up Accountability Act,’ AB 2777 offers adult survivors of sexual assault, abuse, and misconduct the opportunity to secure justice and financial compensation via civil lawsuits.

“Under AB 2777, any claim seeking to recover damages suffered as a result of a sexual assault or other inappropriate conduct, communication, or activity of a sexual nature occurring on or after January 1, 2009 may now be filed between January 1, 2023 and December 31, 2026,” according to the bill’s language.

Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) Los Angeles sexual assault attorneys are currently accepting claims on behalf of adult survivors under AB 2777. To speak with a lawyer about your case, contact us for a free
consultation at 866-GO-SEE-SAM.

To learn more about California Assembly Bill 2777 (AB 2777), please take a look at our recent blog.

About DLG: California’s Leading Sexual Assault Firm

DLG was founded by Sam Dordulian, a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. As a skilled litigator, Dordulian has obtained over 100 jury trial victories and helped survivors of sexual assault secure the justice they deserve for over 25 years.

Dordulian also serves as a member of the National Leadership Council for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence nonprofit organization.

What is California AB 2777 Sexual Abuse And Cover-Up Accountability Act Law?

Together with a team of dedicated Los Angeles sexual assault attorneys, Dordulian has helped countless survivors obtain justice – often through multimillion dollar settlements.

Some of our recent settlements for sexual assault cases on behalf of our clients include:

  • A confidential multi-million dollar settlement for a client who was raped by a man she met on a ‘Sugar Daddy’ website
  • A $2,250,000.00 settlement for a survivor raped by a rideshare driver
  • A $2,000,000.00 child sexual abuse settlement under California AB 218
  • A confidential maximum financial settlement for a women assaulted by an employer – although the incident involved minimal contact, our attorneys were able to secure the damages award under the eggshell plaintiff rule

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

Coming forward to file a claim in an effort to secure justice for a past sexual assault can be an empowering experience for survivors, and DLG is here to assist and support you every step of the way. Contact us today at 866-GO-SEE-SAM to take the first step toward getting the justice you deserve for your sexual assault case.

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