Alleging in its latest motion that ESPN is acting like a “schoolyard bully” in regard to former anchor Adrienne Lawrence’s sexual harassment suit against the mega-sports network, Lawrence’s attorneys are fighting the company’s Rule 11 motion claims.
Rule 11 provides that a district court may sanction attorneys or parties who submit pleadings for an improper purpose or that contain frivolous arguments that have no evidentiary support.
In court filings made late Tuesday, Lawrence’s Wigdor attorneys state in federal court that “ESPN cowardly tried to bully Ms. Lawrence even more by filing a motion seeking monetary sanctions against her because she refused to dismiss her False Light claim because ESPN says it is not true. Such threats by a behemoth corporation like ESPN armed with a law firm [Paul Hastings] of 900-pus lawyers against a single employee suggest that ESPN is gloating in the imbalance of power.” The motion also states ESPN is retaliating against the former sports anchor like a “schoolyard bully.” ESPN is owned by the Walt Disney Corp.
Lawrence’s false light claims leveled against Bristol-based ESPN in the former anchor’s March lawsuit state the network tried to hurt Lawrence’s reputation by “stating aloud or otherwise publishing statements to third parties that intentionally or recklessly impugned plaintiff’s character, judgment and integrity.” The false light claims also state ESPN “made the implications and misleading statements about plaintiff intentionally or with reckless disregard to its offensiveness.”
Lawrence’s attorneys claim ESPN has intentionally avoided answering claims of sexual harassment laid out in the lawsuit. “ESPN’s objections to these 10 paragraphs [the False Light claims] are just 2.8 percent of the allegations contained in the entire complaint [and] form the basis of its motion to dismiss and motion to sanction Ms. Lawrence. As such, six months after Ms. Lawrence commenced this lawsuit, ESPN has strategically managed to avoid responding to 97 percent of her allegations.”
Lawrence, a former attorney herself, has accused ESPN of failing to address complaints of harassment and abuse against current SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross. In her lawsuit, Lawrence claims that, soon after she arrived at the network in August 2015, she was merely “fresh meat” and was soon being harassed by Buccigross. Lawrence claims she was fired in August 2017 for complaining about the alleged abuse. Her lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages.
The motion by Lawrence’s attorney further asserts that ESPN tried to “chill” her from furthering her lawsuit. “The threats made by ESPN [were] a knee-jerk response to the litigation, a failed attempt to chill Ms. Lawrence from pursuing her claims and, ultimately, an attempt to distract publicly about its alleged unlawful conduct and shift the narrative to victim shame Ms. Lawrence,” the motion states.
One bone of contention by ESPN are Lawrence’s claims that ESPN regularly uses bots and fake social media accounts to promote its shows, reports and on-air talent. Lawrence claims in her suit that the network “used bots and fake social media accounts to promote the fraudulent text messages, to attack Ms. Lawrence and spread vile commentary about her.”
In its Sept. 4 court filings, attorneys for ESPN said the network “is well-positioned to know whether or not it uses bots or fake social media accounts to promote its content generally or attack Lawrence specifically.” The network denied any attempt to attack Lawrence via social media accounts.
With regard to Rule 11, the network writes in its filings that Lawrence’s “attempts to bolster her opposition to ESPN’s Rule 11 motion” was an attempt to “muddy the waters regarding a simple fact: she has no evidentiary support for the false Twitter allegations in the complaint. … In the end [it only] emphasizes the need to deter Lawrence from further misconduct before this court.”
ESPN also states that “Lawrence’s counter motion for sanctions is substantively baseless and procedurally defective. First and foremost, Lawrence’s counter motion should be denied on substantive grounds. She claims that ESPN filed its Rule 11 motion for nearly every reason deemed improper under the rule. But, she offers no evidence of any improper intent on the part of ESPN, alluding instead to benign correspondence, compliance with Rule 11 requirements, and undisclosed privileged communications that have no bearing on the counter motion. … Lawrence also argues that ESPN’s Rule 11 motion is based on unsupported factual contentions, but she fails to identify any.”
Lawrence is represented by Wigdor attorneys Jeanne Christensen, Michael Willemin and Bryan Arbeit. Christensen said the firm would have no comment, beyond a press release it issued late Tuesday evening. That release states: “The leadership at ESPN should be uncomfortable with the fact that its lawyers are following the same old-school dirty legal plays engaged in by lawyers such as Michael Cohen, the notorious threatening protector of his high-profile clients, or the lawyers who for years vilified female victims that dared complain about [Fox News personalities] Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. The question is what will ESPNs leaders do about it.”
ESPN is represented by Raymond Bertrand, Patrick Shea and Alex Maturi of Paul Hastings. Shea declined to comment Wednesday and Bertrand and Maturi did not respond to a request for comment.
Lawrence is currently a Madden NFL 18 sideline reporter. Before joining ESPN, she was employed at McGuireWoods in Washington, D.C., and Greenberg Traurig in New York City. Lawrence had previously clerked for Judge Eric Washington at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and was a litigation associate at Arent Fox. She also taught criminal and tort law at Strayer University. Lawrence earned her law degree from George Washington University Law School in 2008.