New California Law Protects Sexual Assault Survivors from Frivolous Defamation Lawsuits

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California AB 933 Passes; Sexual Assault Survivors Shielded from Frivolous Defamation Suits

California AB 933 Passes; Sexual Assault Survivors Shielded from Frivolous Defamation Suits

Oct 23, 2023

A new law aimed at protecting survivors of sexual assault from being hit with frivolous defamation lawsuits filed by their alleged perpetrators has been signed by Governor Gavin Newsom. California Assembly Bill 933 (AB 933) amends the state’s civil code that seeks to discourage anyone accused of sexual misconduct from filing a frivolous and retaliatory lawsuit citing libel or defamation on the part of their accuser.

The bill’s language mandates that “communications made without malice regarding sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination” are privileged. For a defamation case to be successful, the plaintiff or alleged sexual assault perpetrator would need to prove malice or ill will on the part of the survivor who initially filed the sexual assault complaint.

Additionally, California AB 933 specifies that if a defendant wins a defamation suit in a sexual misconduct case, the accuser who filed the claim is responsible for all applicable attorney’s fees, costs, and damages for harm.

A prevailing defendant in any defamation action brought against that defendant for making a communication that is privileged under this section shall be entitled to their reasonable attorney’s fees and costs for successfully defending themselves in the litigation, plus treble damages for any harm caused to them by the defamation action against them,” the legislation’s language states.

Treble damages signifies the court’s latitude to triple awards issued to defendant’s in frivolous sexual assault defamation cases.

Frivolous Defamation Lawsuits Filed Against Sexual Assault Survivors on the Rise

Sexual misconduct defamation cases are increasing, according to Forbes. The magazine cited some recent cases involving celebrities which have made headlines:

  • Taylor Swift stated that DJ David Mueller grabbed her bottom after putting his hand under her skirt during a pre-concert photo opportunity – Mueller then sued for defamation and Swift countersued for sexual assault (and prevailed).
  • Pop star Kesha and music producer Dr. Luke settled a defamation lawsuit brought by Dr. Luke after she accused him of rape.
  • Marilyn Manson sued Evan Rachel Wood in 2022 after Wood accused the shock rocker of sexual abuse (a judge “gutted” several of Manson’s defamation claims last May, Rolling Stone confirmed).

But as Forbes noted, when sexual assault survivors without significant financial means are hit with frivolous defamation lawsuits, attorney’s fees can leave them vulnerable as defendants in such cases. With the passage of AB 933, a two-fold effect is expected:

  • The potential that an unsuccessful plaintiff in a defamation case will have to pay for the defendant’s legal expenses may discourage individuals from filing frivolous lawsuits in the first place.
  • Attorneys who charge an hourly rate or upfront fees may now be more likely to take defendants in defamation cases as clients given the potential to recover fees and damages.

In 2021, published an article entitled “The Golden Age of Defamation,” which highlighted the ongoing increase in these types of cases.

“Across the board, we’re seeing this really troubling trend of the person who harmed the survivor filing completely baseless and retaliatory defamation claims with the clear intent to silence them,” Jessica Stender, policy director at Equal Rights Advocates, a non-profit group that co-sponsored AB 933, told Rolling Stone.

Expected Effect of California AB 933 for Survivors of Sexual Assault

California AB 933 takes effect on January 1, 2024. The law is expected to make it more difficult and expensive for alleged sexual assault perpetrators to bring frivolous lawsuits against survivors in retaliation for legitimate claims.

Sam Dordulian, founder and president of Dordulian Law Group, is a member or the National Leadership Council for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence nonprofit organization. RAINN released the following statement after Governor Newsom signed California AB 933 into law:

“AB 933 just passed and protects survivors from defamation action, as well as ensures financial security in the event the defamation claim is a retaliatory action from the abuser.”

California AB 933 is critical legislation which is expected to not only help protect survivors of sexual assault from baseless defamation suits, but also ensure that crimes are reported to the proper authorities. As Rolling Stone noted, when the power dynamic is in the accused predator’s favor, a survivor may face intimidation and harassment.

“[Jessica] Stender says regardless of how valid the defamation claim is, the suits can have a ‘chilling effect’ among sexual assault survivors, especially in cases where the person they accuse has more money, power and resources to pursue litigation,” the magazine wrote.

In a situation of sexual harassment or sexual assault, you’re often already dealing with a power imbalance between the harmer and the survivor,” Stender added.

“The survivor often doesn’t have the resources to find a lawyer or engage in expensive litigation. Although the survivor might ultimately prevail, it often takes years of extended and possibly re-traumatizing legal proceedings to actually win.”

For more information on California Assembly Bill 933, please visit Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) recent blog.

Help for Survivors of Sexual Assault Hit With Defamation Lawsuits

If you’re a survivor of sexual assault and need to discuss your defamation case, contact DLG’s experienced sex crimes attorneys today for a free and confidential consultation by calling 866-GO-SEE-SAM. As one of the nation’s top-rated and proven sex crimes firms, DLG is here to answer any question you have and aggressively pursue the justice you deserve.

DLG’s founder, Sam Dordulian, is a former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney and sex crimes prosecutor. Dordulian’s more than 25-year career has included securing life sentences against some of the Los Angeles-community’s most dangerous sexual predators and fighting for justice on behalf of survivors of all ages.

DLG offers survivors of sexual assault a unique and specialized type of legal representation which includes 24/7 access to a four-tiered support network of sex crimes professionals known as the SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts):

  • An experienced and accredited in-house victim advocate
  • An in-house licensed clinical therapist
  • A retired LAPD sex crimes detective
  • A team of proven and dedicated sexual assault attorneys who have helped countless survivors secure justice through maximum financial damages awards

If you experienced unfair treatment by an employer, you may be entitled to a financial award. Contact our top-rated lawyers online or by phone for a free consultation today.

Contact a member of the DLG SAJE Team today at 866-GO-SEE-SAM to discuss your frivolous defamation case.

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