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New York court dismisses former Universal exec’s lawsuit against his ex-lawyer

By | Published on Wednesday 19 January 2022

Charlie Walk

A New York court yesterday dismissed a lawsuit filed last year by former Universal Music exec Charlie Walk against the lawyer who represented him when he exited the major in 2018 following allegations of sexual harassment.

Universal announced that Walk was stepping down as President of its Republic label in the US in March 2018, after various allegations of sexual harassment were made against him as the #MeToo movement gained momentum. He has always denied all of those allegations, but after an investigation by the major he nevertheless signed a settlement agreement that saw him leave the music company.

While negotiating that settlement agreement Walk was advised by the lawyer Marc Kasowitz. In March last year, Walk filed a lawsuit alleging that Kasowitz had “botched” the negotiations with his former employer, pressuring him to sign up to a “one-sided agreement” that ultimately left his life “in tatters”.

Elsewhere in the lawsuit Walk accused Universal of exploiting “a fifteen year old canard” and “a facially incredible story” in order to push him out of the business while ensuring he wouldn’t be snapped up by a rival record company.

Kasowitz quickly hit back at Walk’s allegations regarding his work negotiating with Universal in 2018. The litigation, he told reporters last March, was “a false and defamatory piece of work which Mr Walk and his attorneys should be ashamed of and will regret”.

Arguing that Walk’s lawsuit should be dismissed yesterday, Kasowitz’s legal rep Gavin Schryver argued that paperwork proved that Walk had received the advice he now claims was lacking during the 2018 negotiations.

Among other things, Walk says that Kasowitz failed to point out two issues that could have been raised had he taken his dispute with Universal to arbitration. That includes claims that his employment contract with Universal was terminated “without cause” and that the major had breached a confidentiality clause in that contract by publicly commenting on its investigation into the allegations that had been made against him.

But, according to Law360, Schryver argued that emails from 2018 between Walk and his legal team, and between Kasowitz and Universal, show that these issues were discussed at the time. Walk nevertheless decided to settle rather than push for arbitration, Schryver said, because “every one of those arguments is weak at best – and frankly a loser”.

Walk’s current legal rep, Jeffrey Eilender, countered that the documents referenced by the defence were “generic” and that there wasn’t enough evidence available to dismiss his client’s claims against Kasowitz at this stage. But judge Andrew Borrok did not concur, repeatedly stating that the evidence contradicted Eilender’s arguments.

Borrok also mused that the claim regarding the confidentiality clause in Walk’s employment contract was particularly weak, given that clause would almost certainly not apply once allegations against Walk were being made in the public domain.

“When something’s already in the public forum”, the judge said, “when it comes to one of your senior people being accused of sexual harassment and assault, the company has an obligation under the circumstance to make a public statement”.

With all that in mind, Borrok granted Kasowitz’s motion for dismissal, adding that “this whole thing is a false narrative”, and that it was “absolutely outrageous” Kasowitz’s law firm’s reputation “has been sullied under these facts”.

Needless to say, the Kasowitz side welcomed yesterday’s ruling, while the Walk side pledged an appeal. Bryan Feedman from the law firm repping the former Universal exec told Law360: “In 30 years of practicing law, I have never seen a ruling that has more of a basis to be appealed – it is clear this ruling should and will be overturned”.

Meanwhile, speaking for Kasowitz, Schryver said: “This false and defamatory case amounted to nothing more than an egregious attempt by Charlie Walk, an accused serial sexual harasser, to resuscitate his tarnished reputation by attacking ours”.